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The Marcus King Band ‘Carolina Confessions’ at The Capitol Theatre

Kevin Carr


Author’s Note ---


To prepare for this review, I first had to reflect on my last piece and consider what I would have changed. I noticed that by digging into the songs past the point of passive listening, it seems the sense of brilliance I originally associated with the album had lessened due to “getting in too deep”. So for this review, I wanted to stray from this method yet still find a way to give the artist their due. To do this, I will look at The Marcus King Band through the lens of the Carolina Confessions album and its associated tour to try to put into words the spectacle that is The Marcus King Band. With that being said, if you would like to see and hear it for yourself, footage of the entire concert at the center of this review can be found a the link below:


(“The Marcus King Band :: 3/8/19 :: The Capitol Theatre :: Full Show” – The Relix Channel)


As the great Derek Trucks once said, “I’m not going to go see someone because they’re good…something’s gotta happen”. And there’s a whole lot happening with The Marcus King Band. Their live shows extend far past their obvious talents. The band takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride, pulling on the emotions, passion, and love present within the room and themselves.


My first experience with The Marcus King Band was at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, Connecticut during the summer of 2018. Tedeschi Trucks Band was playing their Wheels of Soul tour and MKB and Drive-By-Truckers we’re the openers. The actual tickets however, did not specify the names of any openers, so I blindly walked into one of the most important moments that I would have as a guitar player and music lover. As soon as The Marcus King Band started, I knew I was hearing something special.


Immediately, I recognized that this was the exact kind of music and guitar style that I’ve always wanted to play. In my eyes, it was like seeing Duane Allman, my favorite guitarist. King had that same fire and soul that I believe can be heard in the few recordings that exist of Duane, but he also embodied the styles of Toy Caldwell, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It also wasn’t just the fact that I could hear my own biggest musical influences in his playing and songs, but his entire band simply kicked ass. Drummer Jack Ryan keeps an outstanding amount of energy behind the kit and is a driving force of rhythm. Bassist Stephen Campbell lays down a smooth, percussive, and yet almost effortless floor that allows King room for expression. Keyboardist DeShawn “D-Vibes” Alexander plays keys like no one that I’ve ever heard before, almost matching King’s rhythmic style to the point where sometimes I can’t tell which was which. And I’m normally pretty good at noticing that stuff. The last piece of the band is the horn section. The “Royal Horns” consists of Dean Mitchell on the saxophone and occasional pedal steel (only live) and Justin Johnson on trumpet and trombone. Add in King’s natural ability to sweat soul and you get a once-in-a-lifetime band. Established in Greenville, South Carolina in 2015 and with 3 albums and an EP under their belt, The Marcus King Band is a force to be reckoned with.


Carolina Confessions is MKB’s most recent album. Released on October 5, 2018 by Fantasy Records, the album includes 10 songs that make great additions to their already stacked collection. The tour associated with the record made its way back to New England a few more times since I first saw them. I was fortunate enough to go twice, once in Northampton, Massachusetts on November 17th at the Pearl Street Nightclub, and once in Portchester, New York on March, 8th at The Capital Theater. For this review I will be focusing on the later since it’s my freshest experience with the band. – It’s notable to mention that this show was scheduled for the much smaller Garcia’s club, but was moved into the Capital Theater stage and sold out.


The show kicks off with a cover section of the Mountain track “Never in My Life” followed by a medley off the 2017 Due North EP, “Sharry Berry / Sliced Milk / 25 or 6 to 4 / I’ll Stay / Gloomy Sunday”. A classic example of MKB’s ability to flow between moods while remaining tight, the medley ensures the band absolute control over the audience and relieves any tensions left from the initial notes. This section also gives the band the opportunity to state their theme as a band that can do it all and maintain a fierce drive on command.


The band then switches gears and starts to introduce some originals from the album, beginning with “Side Door”. “Side Door” is potentially my favorite MKB song, but this one was special. King plays the best guitar solo that I’ve personally witnessed and I’ll stand behind that statement anytime. He was visibly in the zone. I’ve never really been able to come up with a consistent definition of the feeling, but it’s as if your body’s taken over by something profound yet intangible, and the notes just flow without active effort. It doesn’t happen all that often, but I could tell King was feeling something along those lines. The band even saw this as something unique as a clip of the solo was posted on their Instagram later that night.



“Side Door” is followed by “Welcome ‘Round Here”, a Skynyrd-esque track with a psychedelic bridge. The band explores this bridge to great lengths during the live set and builds a higher climax for the upcoming solo. Another difference I noticed between the album version and the live set is that there is a small lack in fullness in the guitar on the live stage. This isn’t any fault to King’s playing, but the studio version has several overdubs that give the song a certain width. On the live stage it’s hard to reproduce this, but King still keeps the majority of parts in order with some help from the Royal Horns.


“Good Man”, a song written with Eric Krasno, another prominent blues guitarist, is up next. The song showcases D-Vibes’ ability to play the keyboard like a mad man and some of his rhythm guitar-like style that I mentioned before. He also uses some guitar effect pedals which he manipulates while continuing to play with his right hand; Something that I’ve never seen before or thought of doing. We also get some killer sax from Mitchell and a fuzz bass solo from Campbell. We need more bass solos like this across all live music.


“Autumn Rains” is definitely a sleeper song for me. At first it wasn’t one of my favorites just because the album is packed with so many other standout songs, but I’ve grown to enjoy it more and more. This could be due to the grittier style that they give it when they play it live. The extra keyboard and horn lines also help expand the song past the limits of the recording.


“Can’t You See” seems to form out of thin air. If you listen carefully in “Autumn Rains” at 49:26 and 50:20 you can actually hear a few riffs from “Can’t You See” during the guitar solo, and I think this is what put the idea into King’s head. I ended up catching this after the fact while writing this, but during the show I knew right when King started picking away at those familiar chords as “Autumn Rains” came to an end. Moments later, the band took the hint and joined in to jam to one of my all-time favorite songs from The Marshall Tucker Band. It was also cool to see King directly playing the music from his major influences, because not only are they my influences too, but it reminds me of how I play along with MKB songs at home. At the end of the song, King even mentions how unplanned and yet unavoidable the song was. “That’s the funny thing about being from South Carolina. Sometimes that song just happens. I hadn’t played it in a while, I guess the universe was speaking to me. I had to do it you.” Well I’m glad the universe spoke to you, Marcus.


“So Cold”. Another song written with Eric Krasno, hits hard with the Royal Horns. D-Vibes gets some great bell-like tones and is brilliant through the whole song, especially during the subtleties of the verse. With some musical backing, King takes the time to introduce the band and announce that it’s Campbell’s birthday which promptly turns into a funk rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song. Following this the band breaks back into the rhythm with a sing along chorus and something like an up-tempo reggae funk progression. This is one of those parts that I would really recommend you listen to, but that basically goes for the whole show.


“Always” > “He Bite Me (The Dragon)” was a grooooove. “Always” was one of the first MKB songs that I taught myself how to play, so it was great to see live. The spaced out insert where the chorus would’ve been was outstanding. D-Vibes shows off his phaser keyboard effects, creating sounds right out of a space ship, and accompanies the jam perfectly. Exiting from this section they kick into “The Dragon” verse. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard The Meters original so this was new for me. But damn they killed it. King’s voice really digs into his soul and funk influences on this one, and the horns are as tight as they’ve ever been. This was certainly the song that was stuck in my head on the way home.


“The Dragon” cover also makes it hard to forget how good Ryan is on drums. He crushes the drum solo with unreal timing and dynamics. His playing is another key part of MKB that amazes me every time I hear them.


“Homesick”, the first single of the new record, comes in right after Ryan’s drum solo. It has a similar rhythmic punch to the song Jealous Man from the self-titled album, The Marcus King Band, but has more diversity in it’s dynamics. Not that the other songs didn’t express King’s vocal ability, “Homesick” really emphasizes the power in his voice and the expressiveness in his lyrics.


The band then breaks out the Bobby Womack cover, “Woman’s Gotta Have It”, to show some appreciation on International Women’s day. A righteous gesture indeed. This was another new song to my collection and I really enjoyed being exposed to it. I believe this shows the benefit of bands playing covers, because without them playing this song and the other covers in the set, I would not have discovered them for quite some time. Normally I’m opposed to bands playing covers, but MKB does it in a respectable way that doesn’t take away from their organic creativity.


“How Long” is the most pop-like song from the album and is a perfect crowd-pleaser. Co-written with the great Dan Auerbach, the song is great way to end a set. Personally, I think the song has a similar function to “Homesick” but with more pace. It’s got a very catchy chorus that you can play out till death and has some great boogie potential. The live version was much quicker than the album version though. This could’ve been intentional, but I also know that energy can get even the best of musicians. Either way they played it with commitment and never lost the beat.


Encore


“I Won’t Be Here” is a sentimental acoustic track from Soul Insight (2015), the band’s first album. King comes onstage with just his acoustic guitar and is accompanied by Mitchell on the pedal steel. There’s honestly not much I can say for the musicality of song since it draws so much attention to King’s passion and honesty. However, I can say that using the pedal steel live was a great decision. Pedal steel has always been the instrument that intrigues me most because it’s swells and bends sound like a physical representation of someone pulling on heartstrings. Mitchell does just that and helps King pull on the crowd’s emotions to lead into “Goodbye Carolina”.


“Goodbye Carolina” is an incredible song and really hits on the record. Live it seemed to have some bumps in the beginning but is otherwise still in good standing. From my perspective, it looked like King was a little uncomfortable playing the intro with the slide on his ring finger, and it seemed to transfer over to when the slide joins the song. I wouldn’t consider the slide as King’s specialty by any means and I think he would agree with me on that, but he still gets the job done on stage to a level where most people wouldn’t be able to notice anything. Once King drops the slide, you can tell his confidence grows back to where it was as the songs major solo section is about to come, which of course he ends up scorching.


“The Well” is a new song that King states has been played live only once before. Before it starts, King switches over to what looks like a green bullet microphone that adds some distortion and a little echo. The rhythm was actually very different than the songs of the Carolina Confessions album and seemed like something that could’ve came off of Soul Insight. It features a floor tom and snare driven beat and creates a kind of blues rock that I haven’t really heard before. I look forward to hearing it when it’s released, but otherwise it was a great chance for MKB to test the waters on their new song and leave the crowd rocking on their way home.


Overall, MKB put on one hell of a show as they have before and will continue to do across the world. I urge to check out the Carolina Confessions album and to catch these cats if they come to your area. I will list the time stamps for each song below if you’re interested in hearing specific songs from the show. To MKB if you read this – keep it groovin and don’t hesitate to come back up north. If you want to bring Billy Strings along too that’d be cool.


Never in My Life – 0:36

Sharry Berry / Sliced Milk / 25 or 6 to 4 / I’ll Stay / Gloomy Sunday – 6:04

Side Door – 22:58

Welcome ‘Round Here – 30:04

Good Man – 36:19

Autumn Rains – 46:00

Can’t You See – 51:15

So Cold – 59:00

Always > He Bite Me (The Dragon) – 1:09:40

Homesick – 1:18:10

Woman’s Gotta Have It – 1:24:16

How Long – 1:28:00

(Encore)

I Won’t Be Here – 1:37:00

Goodbye Carolina – 1:41:50

The Well – 1:48:48

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