When deciding what to do for New Year’s Eve, the choice was simple: Widespread Panic or The Marcus King Band. Having spent the last few years with WSP, it was time for a change. This year, I thought it would be fun to ring in 2018 with one of my new favorite bands.
The Marcus King Band blows me away every time I see them. If you haven’t seen them, make it your New Year’s resolution. I braved the frigid cold and headed to the Baltimore Soundstage for a New Year’s filled with amazing music and great friends.
I saw supporting act Peoples Blues of Richmond, for the first time, this summer at the Marcus King Family Reunion Festival. It was one of the best times I had all year. I was only able to catch a few songs then, so I wasn’t able to write a full review.
My first impression of PBR’s opening set was that they are very heavy and loud. (They make a lot of noise for a 3-piece.) Their sound is very much like the Black Angels at times, while integrating Grunge and Punk Rock aesthetics with Irish-Folk (like Flogging Molly). Wielding his Gibson SG like a primitive barbaric weapon, the guitar solos were impressive. Seeming to be straight out of the Jimi Hendrix songbook, they would even cover “Manic Depression,” solidifying this impression.
PBR is an eclectic and original band with comedic overtones and vagabond lyricism that accentuates the underbelly of American society itself. I preferred their high-energy, blues trio stuff: heavy, fast and to the point. The Baltimore Soundstage itself was an adequate venue for this performance with decent sound but the employees and staff were lacking in kindness and that goes a long way, especially on New Year's Eve.
As soon as The Marcus King Band took the stage, all of 2017’s troubles and worries seemed to melt away. I was completely lost in the music and from that point, had no sense of time or space. The band came out swinging with a high-energy live performance that included a genre shattering set list. “Good Man,” “Ain’t Nothing Wrong,” and “Dear Prudence” highlighted the beginning of the show. MKB is on-point in every aspect musically, each player bringing their best to the stage and leaving it in the audience’s memories. At one point, a gentleman beside me began to tear up because the music was so profound. This was his first MKB show, and this is the true power of music.
The Marcus King Band pushes the limits of improvisation with a ferocious intensity, like a lion released from its cage in the depths of some Gladiatorial arena. Accentuating every stop and break within each musical change, progression and divergence. Each member has grown closer together and as a musical unit. This band has matured exponentially since I first saw them at Rooster Walk Music Festival this past summer. Learning some great new tunes and the addition of keyboardist DeShawn (D’vibes) Alexander have pushed the intensity of this bands sound even further. I cannot think of a better musician to join this band. Marcus and DeShawn have a musical connection that is palpable and that juxtaposes each other’s unique musical abilities.
The Marcus King Band would cover numerous Allman Brothers songs including “Dreams” and “One Way Out.” The crescendos and build-ups are on par with any of the hard-hitting Jam bands in the scene today. They can take you to that moment where you feel like the roof could explode off the entire building. Marcus would serenade the audience with a few acoustic solo tunes, including a brand new song that I’d like to hear again. The band returned to the stage for “Rita Is Gone” and then began one of the greatest medleys I have ever heard in my entire life.
As many of you may know, I am an extreme Frank Zappa fan, and it just so happens, so is Marcus. When last we met, we discussed the possibility of MKB covering some Zappa, and I was pleasantly surprised when Marcus pointed my way and began this medley with Zappa’s “Eat That Question” from the seminal album, ‘The Grand Wazoo.’ Serendipitously, one of my favorite Zappa albums which I’ve had on heavy rotation for the past few months. This medley would go on to include Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick," Black Sabbath‘s “War Pigs” and even the short hook from Salt-N-Pepa‘s “Push It.” I am still blown away by that Zappa cover and want to personally thank Marcus and the entire band for starting my 2018 off with such a perfect song selection. When I woke up New Year’s Day, I thought it was only proper that I pay my respects by visiting the Zappa statue/bust on Frank Zappa Way in Baltimore. I truly hope that MKB keeps “Eat That Question” in their repertoire from here on out.
The Marcus King Band would close out the night with “Virginia” bringing in 2018 with one of my favorite songs from this band. MKB has quickly climbed the Jam Band ladder for me and are competing with some of my favorites with raw, energetic, and pure improvisational live performances. In 2017, I made it my mission to see almost every up-and-coming Jam Band in the scene. Marcus King takes the number one spot easily; he and his band have more musical competency and improvisational qualities than any other band out there. I am extremely glad I decided to see them this New Year’s Eve. This may become an ongoing tradition, but let’s hope that MKB decides to play somewhere in the South next year. I’m already ready for warmer weather.
Happy New Year!
–Jam Band Purist
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.