The intimate setting of the Exeter Phoenix is ideally suited to an evening of soul/blues and tonight the venue was packed to the rafters and the atmosphere was electric. The support band was Broken Witt Rebels, they played a varied 40 minute set. Hailing from Birmingham (West Midlands) their sound would lead you to think that they were actually from Birmingham (Alabama).
The songs that they opened and closed the set with had a strong rock/blues feel that was reminiscent of classic Kings of Leon, whilst those in the middle of the set had a slower more soulful vibe with Danny Core’s fantastic vocals bringing to mind Otis Redding (which is no bad thing). The auditorium was pretty full with not many opting to prop up the bar. I have seen headliners less well supported and in this instance the opening act was well received. It will be good to see them back in the future.
As the house lights dimmed the unmistakable riff of Free’s “All Right Now” was played through the PA system and King King took to the stage. Alan Nimmo (vocals/Guitar) dominated the stage due with his imposing stature, infectious charisma and let’s face it, the fact that he was wearing a red tartan kilt! For those who are not familiar with the King King sound it is perhaps helpful to draw comparison with more famous artists and bands from the past in much the same way as someone might describe the taste of an unfamiliar food (funny how when that happens the reference point always seems to be chicken!). Despite this, do not be fooled into thinking that King King are a simple facsimile of other bands. They may have been influenced by others, but they most definitely have their own sound.
The band opened with the mid-tempo rock blues song “Lose Control”. This was immediately followed by the excellent bluesy “Wait on Time” complete with a shuffle beat in the style of Mick Fleetwood and guitar playing that brought to mind BB King. Next up was “Waking Up” with its throbbing funky bassline. For me Alan’s guitar break in the middle section was as good as any that I have witnessed (believe me, I’ve seen a few). OK we might not be talking about the amount of sustain that Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap claims to achieve with his ’59 Les Paul, but I swear that I can still hear it now!
Throughout the concert, the rhythm section comprising Wayne Proctor (drums) and Lindsey Coulson (bass) provided a steady platform upon which Alan and Bob Fridzema (keyboards) could work their magic. This generous approach is a vital component of the sound of the band. Just as Eric Morecambe would not have been as funny without the unselfish performance of Ernie Wise so Alan and Bob on guitar and keyboards respectively would not be able to so effectively demonstrate their virtuosity were it not for the reliability of the platform provided by Wayne and Lindsay.
“Rush Hour” provided the audience with the chance to provide some vocal assistance to Alan on a call and response basis. Nice work on the ‘woahs’ Exeter! “A Long history of Love” showcased Bob on the Hammond organ and featured a fantastic vocal performance by Alan (despite the fact that he was suffering with “Man Flu”) together with guitar playing that brought to mind the late great Gary Moore.
“More Than I Can Take” introduced a slightly heavier sound rather like early Whitesnake (when they were a great rock blues band rather than the poodle permed American FM radio band that they evolved into). In particular the swirling sound of the Hammond organ filled the venue and sounded fantastic. “You Stopped the Rain” followed. With its catchy guitar riff and chorus it would in days of old have been described as “Radio” or “Single Material”. For all that it is a great up tempo song that allows the band to demonstrate their virtuosity in a more mainstream setting.
Alan switched from the Stratocaster to a Les Paul for the Final song of the set - the epic “Stranger to Love”. Alan’s vocals and guitar work that had been fantastic all night seemed to rise to an even higher level with an intensity that you could cut with a knife. After such an emotional performance all you can really do is say goodnight and leave the stage. So that’s what they did!
Naturally, after a few minutes during which both band and audience caught their breath the band returned for the almost obligatory encore. As soon as he re-joined the stage Alan jumped into the pit to present flowers to his Auntie Irene who was apparently in the front row and whose birthday it was. After the intensity of the final song of the set proper “Let love In” which starts with a funky drum introduction provided a welcome opportunity to loosen up and relax. The rhythm instantly puts a smile on your face and just forces you to move. Think of the introduction to Stevie wonder’s Superstition and you’ll get the idea. The band left the stage to rapturous applause and cheers and the sound of “All Right Now” once again being played through the PA system.
If there is any justice in this world, King King are on their way to bigger venues. If they pass through your town I suggest you take a leaf out of Auntie Irene’s book and get along and see them in an intimate setting (which let’s face it we all know is the best way). I fear that before too long your only option may be to stand in an arena and watch them on a video screen.
By the way with regards to dress code I believe that kilt’s are permitted but thankfully they are not mandatory!
Review by Kevin Barnes
Photography by Rhodri Cooper