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King Krule kicked off his North American tour on Saturday night, putting on a masterclass of distorted, space-jazz exploration at the Black Cat. The gravel-voiced vocalist, guitarist, and producer is known for creating bleak, dissonant sonic landscapes that leave very little by way of negative space, which provides a great framework for recreating this energy during live performances, even if not as note-by-note reproductions of the music on his records.

Although Saturday’s show was somewhat different from what I might have expected after listening to The OOZ – his latest release – it was hard not to smile throughout. There’s always been a jazziness to Archy Marshall’s guitar playing and songwriting; there’s prominent use of
chords and progressions that wouldn’t be out of place on a George Benson record. But what the British rocker does best is infuse these bright, sustained chops with a wobbly, slightly out-of-tune aesthetic that makes it clear that everything is not quite as it seems. Backed by a full band, Krule plays a warped brand of ballroom music – technically proficient and accomplished, but with a haziness around the edges that slouches the shoulders even as it bares its teeth.

This bizarro version of your dad’s jazz band is effortlessly cool even as they go off onto extended instrumental tangents. The performance was reminiscent of the show BADBADNOTGOOD put on at the 9:30 Club a few weeks ago, but steeped in menace – Marshall doesn’t smile or address the crowd often, and on the occasion he does, his gold-capped front tooth shimmers and glints in the light, the classic Cheshire Cat grin of someone about to pull a grift on you. You’re on his turf as soon as you step into the venue, and that sense is amplified by the clever use of samples of Marshall’s voice throughout the performance, an effect that creates a sonic hall of mirrors, with new textures around each corner.

Krule’s music is laced with cynicism and shrouded in smoke. Despite that, and even with his withholding, seemingly misanthropic personality, Marshall is clearly connecting with those who listen to his music. For all of my complaints about the crowd at the Anthem during LCD Soundsystem’s set last Tuesday, the several hundred people at the Black Cat did themselves proud. This was not a mosh pit as much as a throbbing mass of humanity dancing and jumping for the entire 80 minute set. Yes, Krule draws a considerably younger audience, and yes, it was a much smaller sample size, but the energy was overwhelmingly joyous and appreciative throughout. By the time the encore was over, the exhaustion and satisfaction in the room was palpable – every bit of enthusiasm wrung out by the pulsing energy of each track played.