It goes without saying that Indie Current has mad respect for King Krule, but, quite honestly, I was not down to go to this show. I’d seen him twice before, on consecutive days, a few months earlier. The first was a private show at a men’s store on the Lower East Side called Alife; the ramshackle stage was made up in their “backyard,” enclosed by seven-story apartment buildings. King Krule had been in the city for a few days, but his band drove straight from the airport to make the gig. The concert was shoddy, last minute and glitchy, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was one of the best sets I’d ever seen from a live band. The second show, much to my disdain, completely failed to capture the raw, disorderly energy from the day before. They traded their sweatpants for suit jackets, stood stiff as planks of wood, and had probably smoked too much weed before the show. I was not a fan.
I had the sense this third show might be different from the get-go, when myself and my underage date were given wristbands to drink. The bouncer leaned over and squinted at her card and said, “Happy Birthday.” It was most certainly not her birthday. He gives my ID the same disinterested look, “Tell her Happy Birthday for me.” It was less a third-eye realization than a stark epiphany: bring more pretty girls to concert (ironic considering it was she who asked- no, convinced– me to come).
The sold out performance was bustling from the opening set by local rap outfit RATKING, three Brooklyn natives with a faultless integrity for the old school. The crowd was an interesting mix of Krule fans: young, bleary-eyed hip hopers in tentative communion with the older and more primped fans, who might follow the critical appeal of such a young, idiosyncratic artist. That’s the initial magic I found in King Krule’s music, it functions in this vacant and wavering space, breaches several layers of previously established aesthetic constraints, before arriving upon this confounding harmony. King Krule makes music that directly acknowledges the cultural gap expounding between soul, R&B and hip-hop, and in the process he appeals to a much larger scope of audiences than any one of those genres could individually contain. I guess that’s why I found his second live performance to be so incredibly underwhelming, why I had to be convinced to see the show. All that grit and soul, all that lackluster inspiration and subversive innovation, was nowhere to be seen.
Five minutes, maybe six. That’s how long it took to register the fact that this would be a considerably different show than my last. King Krule and his band have spent the better part of this year traveling the world, playing gigs and working on their chops. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to so drastically alter a live set in the span of two months. Before there was restraint, now there was control. The songs performed were mere relics of his studio recordings, elongated or accentuated with a flare for the blues. The percussive consistency of 6 Feet Beneath the Moon falls to the wayside, exchanged for a sloppy, inebriated kind of provocativeness. Syncopated rhythms flurry out from behind the gruff, low-voiced singer-songwriter, not quite a rapper, not quite a singer, but some dubious synthesis of the two. This time, before his crowd-favourite “Noose of Jah City,” King Krule departs from the stage, allowing the melancholic intro to swell outwards before starting again. His debut album’s most frenetic cut, “A Lizard State,” is divulged as a shape-shifting, convulsive number, extending past acid rap, finding solace in a diminutive and sultry tempo, sharpening in tonality to emulate the blues, and finally settling upon a listless and shoegazed euphonic relief. The metamorphosis of the number had my head reeling. My gripe against Krule quickly dissolved. Not only was he evolving and expanding upon his past material, he was directly citing and referencing the sources from which the inspiration has spawned. King Krule is at the fore of style, a vanguard of revolutionary sound, a proud torchbearer for the neo-soul.
Photos by Angel E. Fraden