By Adam Perry
Boulder was a jamband lover’s heaven over the weekend, with John Mayer fronting three of the four remaining Grateful Dead dudes as Dead and Co. at Folsom Field on Friday and Saturday and a slew of late-night shows in clubs and bars riding Dead and Co.’s coat-tails. The Boulder Theater, however, hosted Marcus King Band. The 23-year-old South Carolina guitarist and singer has roots in authentic blues and soul, having performed as a pre-teen sideman for his father (Marvin King), and he’s got at least one foot firmly in the fiery, jazz-influenced southern rock of the early Allman Brothers. Most importantly, King has a focus on writing great songs rather than relying solely on his unmistakably virtuosic lead-guitar chops.
After walking on stage around 11:45pm to a Tribe Called Quest track, the baby-faced King – in a white Cowboy hat and black western shirt – led his band through some of its most driving, guitar-heavy tunes, showing off his melt-your-face soloing but also his tasteful songwriting on selections like “Where I’m Headed.” King has a soulful, weathered voice not unlike his mentor Warren Haynes, but there’s something more immediately interesting about King’s original material than what Haynes does with Gov’t Mule.
With two horn players and a bassist, drummer and keyboardist supporting him, King was able to take off on numerous solos that fell somewhere between Dickey Betts, B.B. King and the most hard-rock elements of Phish’s Trey Anastasio. At one point King quoted the Inspector Gadget theme during a without-a-net solo, and an extended take on “Self-Hatred” got surprisingly Phishy, but for the most part King and his band set themselves apart from modern jambands by – as the Allmans did for nearly five decades – showing an appreciation for, and understanding of, the modal runways of Kind of Blue; the fire of Chicago and Memphis soul; and the “devil music” combination of blues and electrified rock.
Indeed, “Aint Nothin’ Wrong With That” and other raw, funky King tunes had a Stax sound like James Brown fronting the Allmans, and found King all smiles while slaying a packed Boulder Theater consisting largely of tie-dyed folks who’d just seen two hours of the Dead meandering at Folsom Field. Rock ‘n’ roll and the blues are both about feeling and execution at least as much as they’re about talent, so while the Marcus King Band isn’t a jamband – solos found their way back to the song, and the spaces between songs were as razor-thin as at a Ramones show – you can’t blame it for letting a virtuoso take flight.
It says a lot about King’s depth and taste that the highlight of Saturday night at the Boulder Theater was not his incredible, roof-raising cover of the Allman Brothers classic “Whipping Post” (with Eric Krasno of Soulive and Lettuce on Les Paul) but a stunning version of King’s beautifully crafted original “Goodbye Carolina,” which King performed earlier this year on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. King dedicated the tearful 2018 song, from the album Carolina Confessions, to the late Jeff Austin. Sure, King is currently one of the most entertaining and exciting blues or rock guitarists on the planet, but whether or not his career breaks further depends on whether he can keep writing songs as strong and poignant as “Goodbye Carolina.”