Marcus King is an anomaly. It’s not supposed to be like this. At 23 years of age, he’s already got three albums under his belt – most recently the impressive ‘Carolina Confessions’. Instead of being the flavour-of-the-month mega popstar, he’s singing soulful tunes and giving that minor pentatonic a real shake. He’s got the gravelly voice of a hardened countryman more than twice his age. There’s barely a flaw in his already stellar career, and it’s scary to think he’s only just beginning.
The Marcus King Band are in town for the Byron Bay Bluesfest on the weekend, and the band take the opportunity for a couple of small sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. Oxford Art Factory is a tiny venue, and as I step inside at a modest 8:45pm – the placed is at, if not over, capacity. There is a buzz amongst the locals who’ve come down to see their new guitar hero – and the anticipation is palpable. There had been plenty of commentary in the weeks preceding the gig that he should be playing to a much larger crowd and subsequently larger audience given his immense talent – but the reality is that Marcus King is still basically unknown, especially here in Australia. No doubt that will change, and soon. As I stood there watching throughout the night, it felt criminal to be witnessing a legend in the making in such a small venue.
What’s immediately evident as the band launches into opening track ‘Where I’m Headed’ is just how technically sound King is. It’s not just about how well he sings, how fast his fingers move (freakin’ fast, in case you were wondering!), or how well the band gels together – it’s the subtleties. The nuance to his playing, the silence, the technicality, the internal meter, the mature comping. Everything he does screams out that he’s been around for decades. Truly impressive.
The set tonight consists of a mixture of album hits spanning all three releases, as well as some improvisational sections and covers. Whilst there’s plenty of material I would have liked to have heard, tonight wasn’t really about the song selection. In all honesty, the songs were just a shell to guide the improvising and solo sections given to each band member – and the audience lapped it up. From a D6 Clav, to tambourine, to guitar, sax, drums, bass, organ etc – an array of instruments were presented at various times throughout the night for the assigned band member to make their mark. It was as fun as it was crazy, all members truly held their own throughout the night.
No doubt the highlight for me was the absolutely stunning ‘Dyin’, which had one of the tastiness blues solos I had ever heard, and the crowd responded with a deafening cheer and applause at it’s completion. I am completely kicking myself that I didn’t think to record it, but at the time I was too transfixed with what was going on. To that point – it was a good 90mins into the set before I even considered looking at the time or grabbing my phone out for a quick photo or video, the music was just that good. Other choice tracks included a softened ‘Jealous Man’, ‘Confessions’ and ‘Radio Soldier’.
Oxford Art Factory barely survived the onslaught The Marcus King Band gave it tonight. A professional, exciting and downright bitchin’ performance from a young band who continue to go from strength to strength. I’ll be one of the very happy people to say many years from now – “I saw them when…”. One of the best gigs I’ve seen in a long time.
The Marcus King Band, Oxford Art Factory, Monday 15th April 2019