Emergent wiseass indie star King Tuff played a lively set Thursday night at the Teragram Ballroom that included all ten tracks from his standout 2018 LP, The Other. Delivered with a wink of slacker wit that’d make a Beck Hansen or Josh Tillman proud, Kyle Thomas’ King Tuff act can be as self-effacing, as it is honest, pervy and altogether hilarious. This music ain’t half bad, either.
Tuff’s five-piece helped buttress indie-psych glam funk rock concoction. If a bit drunk on the sonic party, it was easy to miss Thomas’ wry observations that give endless personality to his new album. The title track sat atop the set, a slow burn, table-setting six-minute opening hymnal bathed in nihilism. If this were a Beck show, then it had begun with a heartbreak-paced Sea Change track set on PCH. The band only percolated behind “The Other,” refraining from any bombast until the salacious swagger of the kick-start second tune, “Raindrop Blue.”
Under a ball cap that appeared to be bedazzled with metallic pins, and in a psychedelic suit of wavy black and white lines, Tuff laid it on thick. In “Circuits in the Sand,” he first took the temperature of modern culture: “I’m trying to remember how it felt to be alive / I’m trying to remember the last time I went outside / I’m mesmerized and hypnotized / Distracted endlessly / Trying to remember any good it’s done for me.” “Birds of Paradise” kept the doomsday train moving: “There’s no sunshine in your face, there’s no blue sky in your brain / You just lay in bed all day, watching the world twist away.”
As long as you weren’t married to the lyrical content, it was a party down in front. Sasami Ashworth, outfitted in a cape and looking like a member of the (long lost) Ghostland Observatory, took on keys and French horn duties, and traded guffaws with Thomas. “Psycho Star” hopped along over a slide guitar undercurrent, with King Tuff opting for the yang of his otherwise dim world view when he observed, “Madness and destruction, maybe that is just who we are / The universe is mostly made of nothing, isn’t it so beautifully bizarre / That here we are!”
Evan Taylor’s unleashed a thundering strike on his drum kit to split “Ultraviolet” in half, like a child eager to show you what was encased in its innards. Coupled with Tuff’s towering guitar riff, the song was psychedelic in both spirit and in height.
An unreleased gem stole the show. “Portrait of God” took the time of a southern rock jam, with some of the echoes and moon dust of “Sugaree” sprinkled throughout. The tune practically ground to a halt at one point, with Thomas making reference to “the frickin’ universe” in spoken word. Then, out of nowhere, the band kicked in again with drunken Dixie gusto, as if the room’s FM dial just landed on a station broadcasting the pinnacle of a Skynyrd jam.
Absurdity continued with Thomas whipping out his “space horn,” an instrument that, after the show, he further described to me as “a space horn.” Whatever it was, its interstellar bagpipe sound added an unexpected country stomp cacophony to “Infinite Mile,” and is the most creative vocal toy seen since Jon Fishman started rolling out his Electrolux.
The three-song encore featured a suite of tunes from Tuff’s previous albums. “Eyes of the Muse” aped “Jack & Diane,” and the biographical closer “Bad Thing” lived up to its name. The lean back rock jam relied on punky energy in telling the story of the King, his own microcosm fitting neatly in to the larger, messed up narrative that is unfurled on The Other.