Sold out weeks before the event, I was getting more than a little excited en route to see Marcus King at the Kentish Town O2 Forum. From going viral in 2014 jamming in a guitar shop to working with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys on his debut album King has been on a whirlwind of rigorous tour schedules (200 a year pre-pandemic!) whilst composing the latest rustically lavish blues tracks.
Kentish Town Forum – 21 March 2023
Words: Monty Sewell
His latest album El Dorado, released January 2020, was quoted by Billboard as “staggeringly confident work” whilst it debuted at number one in the Top Blues Albums Chart and subsequently earned him a nomination at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.
But enough of his astoundingly good past achievements and onto what the night brought, which did not start well. MetalTalk photographer Antonio Giannattasio had a bad fall, injuring his back and requiring hospital treatment, meaning we have no photos from the evening. Everyone at MetalTalk wishes Tony a safe and speedy recovery.
Support act Ida Mae, hailing from Norfolk, are the acoustic alt-folk duo made up of wife and husband duo Stephanie Jean and Chris Turpin. The pair have created a loyal, blossoming fanbase since releasing their debut album in 2019, doting upon every folk Americana-based festival you can think of. They paved the way for the night with an endearing grace, showering the growing audience with a folk-induced fondness.
Big tracks Click Click Domino (featuring Marcus King himself) along with My Girl Is A Heartbreak and Raining For You are superb and nothing short of bringing us the undying need to keep checking out their music.
The main act is a huge eight-man set-up. Drummer Jack Ryan, bassist Stephen Campbell, trumpet/trombone player Justin Johnson, saxophonist Chris Spies and Hammond player Dane Farnsworth join Drew Smithers on second guitar along with a third brass/percussionist. It’s impressive, to say the least, and plays out in the fullest way only a band this size could.
With the brass section doubling up on the bongos, egg shaker, tambourine and various other percussions, it’s the busiest stage I’ve seen in a while. But my god, does it work.
The whole set glides along in a jam-like formation, utilising the space in-between songs as pre-mediated instrumentals. Hammond solos, serene guitar pedal work and the use of Smithers’ slide guitar all combine to create one heck of a show.
From El Dorado, we get Beautiful Strangers and Wildflowers & Wine. With the blues, the writing is only as good as the live show, and King demonstrates this with a crafty suave, shredding his way through the songs without batting an eyelid. For guitar enthusiasts, he’s a blessing. Dark Cloud and It’s Too Late are mastery showcases, with King’s ever-intuitive ear keeping us guessing where his fingers with pluck next. Though the venue is absolutely packed to the brim, it only adds to the discussed anticipation as to where King will go next.
In-between his own material, King whacks out Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross, The Rolling Stones Can’t Hear Me Knocking and Delaney & Bonnie’s Comin’ Home. With Spies working his craft on the Hammond and elongated instrumental starts, it takes a second to guess the songs we all know so well, but that’s what makes a Marcus King show what it is. The ability to take classics and put them out in an entirely new way engulfs and entices. Not a lot of talking from the main man throughout, but this only adds to the insatiability of the music.
Ending with a much-welcomed encore of Goodbye Carolina from 2018s The Marcus King Band album Carolina Confessions, it embraces the all-encompassing value of what the band brings to Marcus King. Throughout the show, they kept us guessing, with the thundering rhythm keeper Ryan encasing us in a hold of blues beats from the drop-down bass performance from Campbell.
But overall, it has to be said that Marcus King is on an entirely different level. The sheer talent with which he picks, plucks and procures every note is a revelation. The prodigy graduated a long time ago and is here to show us what the word ‘maestro’ really means.
As I leave the venue, the bittersweet end of the night is met with a mixture of praise, performance and King’s obviously prospering career. At the tender age of 27, the man is both young in his years but seasoned beyond talents belief. He continues his tour of the UK as we already hope for his return across the pond.
Gracious, powerful and an unfathomable amount of onstage music magnificence. For guitar buffs, musicians, blues lovers and fans alike, Marcus King is the one.