Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
Another venture out to Birmingham this evening to see KING KING as part of their latest 2022 tour of their 2020 album Maverick.
This time instead of heading for Wolverhampton along the M6, I turn left and head down the car jammed Aston Expressway aiming for Birmingham Town Hall, tonight’s venue. Like heading for anywhere in Brum you drive past where you need to be and inevitably end up going around that damn Pagoda roundabout over the A38.
Chaos city during rush hour, thankfully I’d beaten the Delhi rush hour and sailed around it quite easily for a change.
Once parked up in a caged multi-story car park, no throwing myself off here if my cameras fail me tonight, I collect my gear, pay for parking via the app, and a quick walk around the corner and up the hill sees me inside the venue.
No passes available as yet, but then it is a bit on the early side so I make do with a cup of tea and get chatting to Micki Rossella, a KING KING fan of epic proportions (fan size not her physical size). We chat and I listen to her tales of band encounters, marvelling at her smorgasbord of accents as I travel around the world. Fascinating stuff.
A quick hello goodbye to my mate Neil on lighting duties tonight and ‘Creeper’, and then it’s time to try for the pass. Collected easily this time around and then it’s into the hall to get my kit ready for the night. It’s obvious that there is no pit so it’s a case of shooting from the side-lines and over the soundboard from which there are various cables and tripods in place. It’s going to be a fun night.
First up we have a completely new band to me and one that, after reading reviews and comments from previous shows, I’m more than keen to shoot. The Damn Truth, a rock and roll band with a heavy dose of hippy. Hailing from Montreal in Canada they have come to tour the UK in support of KING KING.
The band formed when Tom Shemer and Lee-La Baum met whilst naked in a ‘Hippie’ commune in Israel, the power of love with no hidden pretensions have meant they have been together ever since.
Their music style has a powerful 60’s vibe running through it, full of ‘flower power’ and the ‘Eco-friendly’ vibe that that mindset encourages. In today’s world it’s a makes a refreshing change. This is obviously felt by the fans, as the various social media platforms have jumped on board and followed the band along its travels, more than 2 million YouTube views is quite an accomplishment for a YouTuber that isn’t flaunting themselves naked over holiday resorts, free clothing or their partners sports car collection.
The band are Lee-La Baum – Lead Vocals and Guitar, Tom Shemer – Lead Guitar and Vocals, PY Letellier – Bass Guitar and Vocals and Dave Traina – Drums and Vocals.
With a driving drum beat and a rising whoa from Lee-La we get the show on the road. It’s very quickly apparent why this band have a growing fan base.
A rocky vibe with a stunning vocal reminiscent of Janis Joplin, a thudding bass cutting through as head shaking PY Letellier rocks out with his Israeli made Bunting bass guitar, a green Signature ‘Lightning Dove’ model with bespoke animal print scratch-plate, the only one in existence and it sounds great especially when PY gets down the dirty end.
Balanced on the other side by Tom Shemer who’s totally rocking out with a sweet phazed sound on his pink Bunting Melody Queen, affectionally known as Barbie.
To complete the trio Lee-La also has a Bunting hanging from her neck too, a short scale Alice EP in off white, with a dirty P90 pick up, that joins in grinding out the opening riff to ‘This Is Who We Are Now’ from 2021’s album Now or Nowhere. Tom smashes out the solo stood stage right as Lee-La and PY head bang along.
Sat in the middle with hat and aviators is Dave Traina, beating out a rhythm that holds the song tight and true. That’s got the crowds attention. I’m guessing we have a few in the crowd who weren’t expecting that.
Following straight on we have ‘Full on You’ again from the same album, in fact in the rather to short, 8 song set, we have 6 from the new album and a song apiece from both Dear in The Headlights, the 2012 debut album and the more recent 2016 Devilish Folk.
With its jangly guitar and steady drum beat intro instantly making this song familiar, the crowds heads are already nodding along to this great tune. Lee-La shows off her stunning vocal. It’s been said that if Robert Plant and Janis Joplin had a love child Lee-La would be the result, her vocal is really that good. As the song builds and more of her dynamic comes across the energy in the room can be felt rising as does the songs.
The first trip away from the new album gives us ‘Too Late’ from the debut album, with a White Stripes vibe intro, and a steady bass beat, which has PY posing open shirt showing off his ‘XOX’ tattoo, done during a night of Whiskey drinking much to his surprise the next day, around the stage.
Tom on guitar grinds out a distorted honey dripping riff as he and Lee-La face each other, the looks between them are special. With a crushing up-turn in tempo we see the guys bouncing around the stage as the Lee-La’s vocal goes through the roof. Nice!
‘Broken Blues’ follows from Devilish folk. Its slow vibe has Lee-La’s vibrato come to the front, Joplin-esque to the max, getting her macaques out she sings and shakes them at eye level as Tom follows her voice on the guitar.
Dropping into a distorted driving powerhouse riff that has the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, it eventually gives way to a guitar solo that Tommy Bolin during his Zephyr and James Gang years would have been proud of. The band are high energy, hair is flying in all directions as we get the full Joplin and the Kozmic Blues band effect.
With its humming and a whispered lyric about smoking hash in an alley heralds (Brother Can You Hear Me) ‘I’m Lonely‘ from the latest album. This is without doubt my favourite track, the Joplin-esque scream in the middle is unreal.
I have to say it’s a compliment but also a bit unfair to keep referencing Lee-La’s amazing voice to being Joplin-esque but when looking for comparisons it’s a great reference. The vocal isn’t as heavy on vibrato as Beth Hart but it’s in the same ball park and equally, just as sensational. This song had started out more as an acapella version until the magician that is Bob Rock heard it and persuaded them to turn it into the banging tune it now is. What a great decision.
‘Only Love’, ‘Look Innocent’ and ‘Tomorrow’ finish this set off. Again, as stated earlier they all feature off the latest album, Now or Nowhere. ‘Only Love’ has that familiar feel to it as it bounces along. Lee-La and PY once again play as Tom wrings out every note on the neck of his lovely Melody Queen, the repetitive Only love lyric brings out the cheers and me get Dave smashing his way around the kit for an impromptu but planned drum solo. Lee-La encourages the crowd as he flashes his way around the kit like animal from the muppets, standing at the end, fist raised as he acknowledges the applause and whistles from the appreciative crowd.
Look Innocent’ starts with Dave riffing around the toms once again and low growling scream builds from Lee-La as the song starts slowly. With a blink it drops into a slow ballad with a 60 vibes weaving its way around the lyric. The fuzz inspired guitar stabs throughout the chorus as the song grows. Its marching beat grows as the drums and bass unite and throws the tune down the road; we’re invited to break her heart but not look so innocent.
Final song of the night “Tomorrow’ see’s Tom pick up the stunning Demer Flying V again and riff out a tune with almost siren like qualities. With both Tom and PY bouncing along Lee-La’s amazing voice kicks in as the three sing about being in each other’s arms. PY and Tom are quo like rocking along as the crowd seem to ‘get’ the band,
some are on their feet enjoying this up beat tune. Tom stands centre stand a cracks out a solo whilst head banging along. Lee-La is at the mic strumming her ‘Alice’ as the song concludes with the same riff as it opened with alongside a crescendo of drums. The crowd are up showing their appreciation as the set finishes.
What has happened, I’ve spent the set staring and enjoying a set worthy of any headlining band and forgotten to take notes. Powerful thing is music. A brilliant set.
It’s that time when you get the stage cleared and ready for KING KING, in this pause, I head to their merch stand to see if I can chat to the band. Its swamped! As slowly the band appear, folk are buying the cd’s, the vinyl, tee shirts.
It’s great to see that I’m not the only one who enjoyed the band. In-fact I jump in and manage to secure one of the last vinyl copies of Devilish Folk to which the band sign for me. Chatting along I get an offer from Lee-La and Toms son Ben to sign the album as well. His foetal heartbeat appears on the title track after the breakdown, a fact that he writes on the album cover for me. What a great lad!
With the echoes of AC/DC sounding from behind the double doors it marks the time for the mighty KING KING to take the stage, I get back into the main hall just as the Zanders marching bass and Andy’s drum beat starts up for the opening track (she don’t) ‘Gimmie No Loving’ a staple of every KING KING gig I’ve attended over the years and there’s been a few.
Alan stands between the drum riser and keyboardist Jonny who is perched atop a couple of wooden blocks side on to the crowd facing the drums as he tickles the Hammond delivering that trademark King King Sound.
‘Fire in My Soul’ follows from the new album which surprisingly, is already over 18 months old, Maverick. Brother Stevie sings along as the song builds. Alan takes a few steps to his left from behind the microphone and delivers a great solo, he then takes a few moments to thank the crowd and the support band. He then comments about how it’s been a rubbish year and that he’s not doing it again, he’d rather die playing music to which there’s a triumphant cheer from the crowd. I hope they were cheering his defiance!
After a quick mention about Andy Scott’s birthday we are into ‘One World’ again from Maverick this is followed by ‘Waking Up’ from 2015’s Reaching for The Light. This again starts with its walking bass line and a spinning tinkle from the Hammond.
Alan sings the entry line, Stevie and Zander backing him up during the chorus. Alan, as always is in his trademark kilt as he gives us a little trill on the guitar, he then comes back and sings ‘Stand Up’ to which everything stops and the lights come on.
The band just stare at the crowd, Alan eventually explains and coaxes everyone to their feet. He mentions words to the effect that live music is back, being on your feet enjoying it is where we need to be. The crowd cheer and clap along as the song finishes and unbelievably many stay standing. They have the ok to dance and that’s what they’re doing. Alan is marching at the mic; he’s swapped his traditional ‘boots’ for a pair of low-cut Timberland ‘sneakers’.
Jonny plays the soft piano intro to ‘Rush Hour’ the swirling sound fits around Alans gravelly voice as this slow ballad grooves. The band join in, great hi hat splashes from Andy as the song builds. We get a full Hammond sound as Alan plays a twiddly bit before getting back on the mic.
With a couple of taps on the pedal board Alan is back in his happy place as he grinds out a solo on his weapon of choice, the silver Strat. He sings the last verse of the song with arms waving as we build into the call and return Whoa oh oh’s that the crowd are only too happy to be part of.
‘Coming Home’ (Rest Your Eyes) from 2013 album Standing in the Shadows with its steady bass line and walking drumbeat slowly caresses as Alan delivers a gentle lyric, the ever-present Hammond swirling like and old friend, which it indeed is.
This is followed by ‘A long History of Love’ and my all-time favourite KING KING track, a tribute to Alans brother Stevie, ‘You Stopped the Rain’ with its Whoa oh oh intro and bouncing guitar line, this upbeat song tells of Stevie who was going through a hard time in his life, a fitting tribute from a loving brother, and played with respect as KING KING and Alan only know how.
The outro has Alan smashing a sensational solo, his face contorted as he squeezes every note out of the guitar with feeling, finishing with a closeness and nod towards Stevie, a firm fan favourite that’s for sure.
‘Everything Will be Alright’, ‘Whatever it Takes to Survive’ and ‘I Will Not fall’ all from 2020’s Maverick finish the set off.
A couple of slow ballads to bring everyone back down before the final ‘I Will Not Fall’ a slightly faster driving tempo and steaming solo see’s kilt wearing Alan front and centre, stopping to initiate the clapping as the band carry on with a crescendo of drums the title is repeated back and forth between Alan and Stevie, who embarks on the solo with eyes closed he caresses his guitar making it sing as he shows that he is equal to his brother on the guitar, Andy’s percussive snare attack fills this song out as Alan marches around the stage as they bring it back down, a flurry of cymbals brings the song to an end and starts with the cheering.
A quick encore ensues in which time I’m trying to extend my parking via the app. I love technology when it works, this listed building is acting like some sort of Faraday cage, I’m racing about like a loon but to no luck!
The band are back and its ‘When My Winter Comes’ a piece written by Alan and Jonny; it features just Piano accompaniment. A song that’s reminiscent in style of the great Frankie Miller. Stevie provides backing vocals when needed.
It goes down well as I’m panicking trying to get my car parking sorted. ‘Stranger to Love’ follows with thanks to the fans. Zanders rumbling bass line drives this song forward as we are told not to be a fool, don’t be a stranger to love.
Jonny’s smiling as he swirls the comforting Hammond around the lyric as the song builds towards the inevitable solo which sees Alan bring it right down before taking the roof off this listed venue as he rips it a new one. ‘Let Love In’ with its marching drum beat has the crowd clapping straight away.
The band acknowledge the crowd for being with them. Alan then starts that upbeat guitar as he sings about being your lover, the guitar riff has a big country feel about it without it sounding cheesy. It finishes with the inevitable Alan Nimmo solo and band introductions.
I’ve cut n run as the song comes to an end, I’ve minutes to get back to my car and get out of the car park if I don’t want to get fines that the wonderful ANPR systems now provide. I’m not paying for extra time when I’m only needing a minute or two. I end up driving around the convoluted one-way system in my desire to find the much-hated Pagoda roundabout.
Well in summary what a great night, KING KING are always going to knock it out of the ball park. They are tight and on the money every time. With brother Stevie in the band it feels the complete package, comfortable like an old pair of favourite slippers.
The surprise was The Damn Truth. What a support band, and now my favourite band to boot. A stunning vibe from a long distant past that I was too young to appreciate first time around. Lee-La’s voice is ridiculous, Canada has provided many a great band, RUSH, LOVERBOY, PETER THORN, WHITE STRIPES and now THE DAMN TRUTH can be added to that list. Stunning.
Catch them as soon as you get the chance, bring your flares and poppy’s in your hair, It’s the summer of love all over again.