Concert Review: Marcus King Band

Mama we made it! The first show since quarantine began finally happened. It’s been 6+ long months of cancelled shows, rescheduled events, and music withdrawals. I’m being dramatic, of course, but if you are a fellow concert goer you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re curious, check out my post here for a rant.

And what better time to ring in the return of live music than with a beautiful, late-summer night at the Yarmouth Drive-In on Cape Cod. But this was no ordinary show. The format was, literally, drive-in style! You pay for your car which you can pack full of your buddies, then drive into one of three “sections” where there are 100+ roped-off bays you can park your car in. In classic drive in fashion, we popped open the trunk, enjoyed a few beers and watched the show relatively close to the stage all things considered, complimented by two massive displays on each side.

Although in my case, my buddies were in fact just my girlfriend who self-admittedly was more in love with Marcus King for the 2hr+ duration of the show.

I’ll get into the experience in a minute, but let’s start with the music. I have been following Marcus King and his Band for about 2 years or so now after I saw them open up for Tedeschi Trucks in 2018. He was the first opener at the time and literally left the crowd in an uproar with his incredibly powerful blues crooning and insanely complex guitar shredding – and I remember being nothing but impressed. Since then, I missed a few of his shows up in New England but have continued to explore his short discography and have been hooked.

What makes Marcus so unique to me is his ability to be the most unassuming young front-man in blues rock today. Because honestly, if you look at him straight up, you would never expect the walls of sound this dude shells out night after night. Marcus has a voice that is fit for Blues: raspy, hearty, intense but soft as butter when he’s hitting those low notes. He can yell (oh, he can) but never pushes the limit or cackles. It always arrives at this pleasant high note that makes me think of what a male Bonnie Rait would be like. When he’s singing through verses, he brings this sensitive subtlety to his vocals which brings his Tennessee twang out on full display without being overbearing. The result are songs led by magnificent southern blues rock vocals that keep you upbeat and genuinely overjoyed. And my favorite part – he incorporates his country-boy twang in some way into each song without succumbing to the same country-esque tropes we see so many blues rockers fall to these days for the sake of pop stardom. Admirable, to say the least.

The Marcus King Trio is 2/3 of the full Marcus King Band, and is made up of lead singer and guitarist, Marcus King, drummer Jack Ryan, and one of the jam band music world’s rising bassists, Stephen Campbell. Although the MKB Trio is made up of two-thirds of the players in the Marcus King Band, the sounds of each are noticeably different. I’ve heard the trio itself compared to the sound of Cream, Derek Trucks, Dickie Betts, and other power-driven guitar leads.

While I prefer his sound with the full band rather than the show’s Trio, given a large majority of his songs incorporate keys and several horns, the trio was a fun transition into rock and roll which carried by attention throughout. In addition, it gave Marcus the opportunity to shred endlessly which was a spectacle in itself. In fact, it was some of the more outrageous shredding I have seen in recent memory, albeit slightly muffled by the limited sound quality. Regardless, you could tell the man had full control of the guitar. It also produced this solid wall of sound which impressed me for a three-man group. I wished we had seen more of the bassist Campbell who showed signs of greatest on stage left throughout the two hour performance, but I will be looking for him in the future.

One Day She’s Here was a phenomenal jam, followed by the hard-rocking likes of hits Virginia, a grimy, southern-style anthem, and The Well, one of his newest singles off of El Dorado (his most recent album) that gets the crowd going with intense vocals and monster soloing throughout. My favorite of the night very well may have been a cover of Buddy Guy‘s “I Smell Trouble” which sounded better than the original. There were a handful of additional covers sprinkled in here and there that he certainly made his own and only added to the performance. He even covered “Ohio” by CSNY which was a nice treat – complete with its own unique MK-spin. He also tossed in a few new songs, both of which we enjoyed thoroughly (but unsure of the names).

I’d encourage you to check out: The Well, Rita is Gone, Virginia, One Day She’s Here, Goodbye Carolina, Where I’m Headed, Homesick

While I’ll always take a traditional venue over something like this, given COVID and all the nuttiness going on, this was a perfect alternative. I loved chilling in the car, being able to bring a few brews and just actually chill for a change at a rock show. We even brought snacks which is straight unprecedented as you know. Imagine trying to walk into the Boston House of Blues with a Granola Bar, god forbid.

On top of this, the venue was stacked full of food trucks you could order from right on your phone. Thus marked the first time I mucked some fried dough while watching blues rock live. And I have to say it was a lovely compliment. Everyone felt safe enough given the distance, and I think it made everyone much more at ease (plus being outside, obviously). I would 100% try something similar again if the COVID continues. I would almost compare it to some kind of homey, town fair-type experience where you have all the locals just tossing back brews in their cars, all gathered to watch some local event. It gave it a really relaxed, comfortable atmosphere which I enjoyed thoroughly.

My one complaint about the whole experience was the sound quality was sub-par at best, and just not tuned well to capture all of the ferocious jamming from Marcus and his trio. The issue was that you have the sound coming from stage front ahead of you, but the speakers were largely stacked far, far back behind the entire 3 sections of cars. This created an interesting sound quality that had us hearing reverb from the back with drums and the occasional guitar lick ringing from the front. But hey, I suppose that’s what you get for a recently closed drive-in-turned-rock-venue. But next time, I would either choose another venue or make a formal request for some improved sound quality. Admittedly, we could’ve tried to put it on the radio but that seemed like it kinda defeated the point of being at a show…

All in all, we had a terrific time and it felt good to taste the sweet, sweet sound of live instruments again. I’ll definitely be looking for (and letting you guys know of ) any similar shows coming up. Score: 7/10

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