The normal cool urban vibe of the Stokes Croft area of central Bristol was subjected to some serious disruption last Friday night. Rock and Roll had come to town – in the form of South Carolina’s Marcus King and his excellent young band, who took to the stage in the back room (about the size of your average suburban garage) of the Crofters Rights Bar bang on 8.30 p.m. and then delivered a blistering two hour set showcasing, mainly, their eponymously titled new album. I had high hopes for this show, having given the album (produced by the legend that is Mr. Warren Haynes) plenty of air-time in the last few days, and having received instructions from a friend in L.A. not to miss the show under any circumstances. The band has had much more exposure in the States, unsurprisingly, where in the space of a couple of years they have developed a strong following, particularly on the festival circuit. My optimism remained high on arrival at the venue, a no messing, no fuss, establishment – effectively a room, with a bar, lots of excellent craft beers, and little else (apart from a pizza oven discreetly tucked away at one end). I recommend it highly. Playing over the sound system in the forty five minutes or so before the band came on was Lord Neil’s ‘Tonight’s The Night’. A couple of beers later, and listening to the strains of ‘Albuquerque’, I sensed that all the omens were good for what lay ahead.
And cometh the hour, cometh the man. I was amazed at how good the young King turned out to be, an absolute natural as a live performer, with a guitar that simply soars, and a rich, wonderfully soulful voice to match. He and his band began with a fast paced extended jam, before launching into ‘Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That’, the up tempo, all guns blazing opener from the new album. This was followed by ‘Self-Hatred’, which allowed Marcus to show off his talent on slide, and then the bluesy ‘Dyin’’ from the band’s first release, last year’s ‘Soul Insight’. Next up was ‘Slip Back’, a blues funk number which included intense duelling between Marcus’ guitar and Dean Mitchell’s tenor sax. More jamming followed (I didn’t recognise the next three songs, but my notes say ‘Big Jam’, ‘New Song about North Carolina’ and ‘Shred from 1st Album’) before Marcus torqued through a stunning version of ‘Champagne and Reefer’, followed by ‘Keep Moving’ – another great jam – which segued flawlessly into the full-on funk of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, and then finished off with the rocking ‘Plant Your Corn Early’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Man You Didn’t Know’, both from the new album.
This was a really top show, and I have no doubt we are going to be hearing some very fine stuff indeed in future years from this prodigious talent. Marcus’s excellent young band deserve high praise too. Jack Ryan on drums and Steve Campbell on bass provided a great foundation, Matt Jennings was outstanding on organ and piano, and the horn section of Justin Johnson and Dean Mitchell were faultless. Marks out of 10? I’d give it 9.5, my only complaints being that the two hours flew by far too quickly, and we didn’t get to hear the outstanding ‘Guitar In My Hands’, my personal favourite from the new release. I did have a word with the young lad afterwards, however and he promised me he’d tour in the U.K. again soon. Now that is very good news indeed.