Monday, October 20, 2014

CONCERT REVIEW: King Tuff, Cassie Ramone & Whips (The Cactus Club, Milwaukee)

After breaking big nationally with his 2012 self-titled sophomore effort, an absurdly catchy set of songs that was widely, and deservedly, hailed as one of the year’s best, King Tuff, known offstage as singer-guitarist Kyle Thomas, has received an enormous amount of attention, even with stiff competition from their accomplished labelmates at Sub Pop and Burger Records. They’ve earned it obviously, but more scrutiny adds no small amount of pressure when you’re following up a near-perfect album, not that it’s marred the new Black Moon Spell, which, if anything, only cements his status as one the most entertaining artists in modern garage rock. When someone of his caliber comes to town, it’s always a big deal, but at this point in his career, it’s arguably too big a deal for the Cactus Club.

It’s nothing against the venue, Cactus is one of the best-sounding and most adventurously booked rooms in the city, but, being one big bottleneck, becomes a frustrating mess when it’s crowded, and tonight the place was already almost packed by the time hard-rocking local opener Whips took the stage.  Featuring members of Call Me Lightning and The Academy Is…, and fronted by wild-eyed singer Ashley Smith, their set was a bit on the long side, but made a convincing case for looking into their upcoming LP Turn It On. Next was former Vivian Girls frontwoman Cassie Ramone, who requested the audience sit on the floor for her short set of unpolished, but affective, acoustic pop, which provided an interesting vibe, but also created a minefield of tripping hazards that felled at least one victim.

After the sell-out crowd had time to mob the bar and bathrooms, Tuff, accompanied by drummer Old Gary and bassist Magic Jake, emerged to the strains of “The William Tell Overture”, humorously enjoying the pomp for a moment before ripping in to the new album’s stomping title track. The Black Moon Spell material continued, but there were throwbacks too, like “Freak When I’m Dead” from his 2008 debut Was Dead and a couple of King Tuff cuts, namely the dreamy “Anthem” and the night’s upbeat ending “Alone and Stoned”. It was a predictably fun show, but would have been even better with more room to enjoy it in; plenty of great acts have graduated from the Cactus Club to bigger spaces over the years, and it’s about time King Tuff was one of them.

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