As Minnesotan psych-rock fans began to recover from the polar vortex, some came crawling out of the woodwork to find themselves at the Turf Club in St. Paul Thursday night to see King Tuff on his Infinite Smiles tour. If they were smart, they got there early enough to see brilliant opener Stonefield.
King Tuff is the moniker of Vermont native Kyle Thomas. He has spent years crafting that identity. It’s his stage persona as much as it has been his voice during his years of constant touring.
However, the last couple of years have shaken his perspective on his identity, creativity, and his voice as an artist. His latest release, The Other, explores Thomas unleashing a side less seen in his previous work – a smoother sound of his usual fuzzy, gritty, twisty persona.
But don’t worry. This new direction doesn’t lack the fuzz or attitude, nor does it change what he brings to the stage; it seems to reflect him more personally as a constantly evolving artist.
As the house lights went down, four women came up the stairs to the stage under newly pink and green lights to take their places for action. They were the Australian band of sisters Stonefield.
When you first picture a band of sisters, one might expect sweet harmonies a la First Aid Kit, or sugary power anthems like HAIM. Both of those comparisons, however, were furthest from the truth. These women sounded like a fusion of Black Sabbath and Wolf Alice.
Amy Findlay offers something else to set them apart, too; she is the lead singer and drummer. She kicks out steady beats and wails the atmospheric vocals while Hannah, Sarah, and Holly lay creative, moody jams on guitar, keys, and bass, respectively.
The crowd was gathered in the back of the club at the start of the set. Normally this might bother an opener, but they’ve been an active band since 2006, after all! They had to know that within several songs, they would be filling up all of the space by the stage. These musicians know that they’ve got lightning in a bottle.
King Tuff didn’t play games when starting his show. He ran onto the stage in a black suit and cape covered in gold suns, moons, and music notes. He also had a hat that was absolutely covered in little gold objects. He picked up an instrument that looked half guitar effect pedal, half piano pedal. It was his “space horn.”
In case you aren’t an expert at novelty instruments, it’s an electric flute-like apparatus made of plastic, which sounds like a guitar-fretted solo. The crowd went crazy as they recognized the sound used on so many of his signature songs. It was clear that this wouldn’t be a predictable show.
After he placed the “space horn” back by his pedal board, he began his iconic guitar riff to “Black Moon Spell” and further perked ears. This is a song that has the energy and popularity that would make it a great closer to a night of mysterious jams. Not that night! The tone was perfectly set, and there was no going back.
The high-energy set jumped around in time as he pulled material from his different albums. “Thru the Cracks” showed his new calmer side, and “Keep on Movin'” reminded the crowd that he’s still got the will to sing about dancing like creepy-crawly bugs, too.
Tuff’s three-piece, all-female band was the perfect way to balance the stage energy. He switched between guitarist and bassist dance offs during song and kept those ladies in the spotlight with him at all times.
“Connection” was a song dedicated to the lovers in the room. It was a dreamy ballad that had audience members reacting with kisses, hugs, and one yawn (which did not go unpunished).
“Ultraviolet,” “Infinite Mile,” and “Eyes of the Muse” kept the crowd head-banging and dancing throughout the show. There was a myriad of heavy jams with unstoppable energy, and it felt therapeutic to be part of a vibrant and responsive audience after a cold and cooped up week.
The set came to a close, but the audience was not going to leave until they got an encore. Cheers and claps brought King Tuff back to the stage with his band to dust off a few more old favorites: “Headbanger” and “Bad Thing.”
The goal of the Infinite Smiles tour was to bring fans together in the dead of winter to bring some warmth and happiness. By keeping the show relaxed and pulling out old songs with the new, he achieved exactly that with this show. It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, since Minnesota really needed something to look forward to this week!