Review: King Tuff and Ex Hex 1.21.14 Neighborhood Theatre

By Shirley Griffith

January 23, 2015

Wednesday evening I walked into the Neighborhood Theatre around 6pm to hand over posters for an event on a later date. Already excited for the show the night held (powerful rockers Ex Hex and King Tuff), I stopped mid-step, mid-hallway right in the center of the Theatre. Turning around, I stood and listened in awe at the Ex Hex soundcheck thundering boldly through the 5,000 square feet venue. The excitement nearly overtook me and I had to leave immediately before turning into a puddle of astonished drool.

Mary Timony of Ex Hex photo by Carter Short

Over 200 people were of the same chittering mindset and quickly ushered in at show time, welcoming with various forms of squeals and screeches the legendary Mary Timony who fronts the female trio. Sporting a gold-sequined cardigan, Timony smiled warmly at the adoring fans and bandmates and announced “This is called ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose,’” and the thundering, frightening storm that had been brewing silently since their soundcheck exploded out of the band’s instruments with utter, sparkling brilliance. A force of nature is almost too tame a description for Ex Hex’s performance that night as they completely destroyed and shredded everything in sight. Chords bit down angry, flirtatious and without regard to anything held dear. “Waterfall” was a frantic, electric chugging of “fuck you” handed out politely on an oozing, two-minute silver plate. Timony’s voice waded like a determined, dangerously mesmerizing high tide. The band never waned in energy through their set, instead, each member recharged from the audience’s expanding hysteria. Ex Hex galvanized a stage-sized web, which bloomed and cascaded with the intense chemistry between the three women. I’ve never seen such momentous girl-power so clearly. I wanted to dance. I wanted to get angry. I fervently wanted more of this chaos more than I’d ever wanted anything else before.

Mary Timony of Ex Hex photo by Carter Short

Each song was met with equally wild applause and after a hefty uproar the band paced themselves into “Hot & Cold.” The song waltzed recklessly among the crowd before returning to the stage, its rightful throne, to reign as a swinging, deranged lullaby. Audience members raised their fists in solidarity that, thankfully, reassured me that the intensity I experienced was justified. I’d never been drawn to “Radio On” but the song was executed with impressive rolling drums, weaving cymbal crashes and a honey in Timony’s voice that I hadn’t noticed before. When Ex Hex’s set was over I thought to myself, tonight has been a show I’ll remember in twenty years.

King Tuff photo by Daniel Coston

King Tuff (Kyle Thomas) and company lumbered onto the stage, awkward but charming, like a lovable, sharp, class clown you had in your junior year who also happened to be in a band that played at the rich kids’ houses when their parents went out of town. The three-piece assembled and shared a shy, proud grin with the crowd, and eased into the set before the wailing, stress of guitar twisted into a punk, hypnotic mayhem. Thick, verbose bass lines lifted Thomas up through the dense fog machine clouds to leave a silhouetted trucker hat, frayed jean vest, and a guy who so significantly loves to rock. “Beautiful Thing” was a punch to the gut of self-assured power chords but just an appetizer for the grumbling, tense first few evil seconds of “Black Moon Spell.” The frenzied, sexy notes siren out and the entire audience was captivated. The band consistently built each song with so many dimensions that they became enrapturing. Thomas stood valiantly and let the power of his electric guitar burst out of him in front of a backdrop emblazoned with skulls and KING TUFF written out in flames.

King Tuff photo by Carter Short

This was King Tuff’s first show in Charlotte and between the stage kicks, fist pumps and back-to-back solos with bassist Magic Jake, the band grew ever grateful for the fiery party boasting in front of them. The band settled down with their last song, but the crowd had other thoughts in mind. I was perturbed and felt betrayed that they hadn’t played my favorite song and were readying to go. I wasn’t done yet. The crowd erupted, angry and vigilantly chanting “Encore,” and the band drummed themselves into a spiraling, dervish of last ditch, go-for-broke sweat and rock. Thomas introduced drummer Old Gary, who stood up to don a guitar for the very last song. The crowd accepted him immediately and restarted their chant, “Gar-y, Gar-y.” I perked my ears up in anticipation for this last song, prepared to be heartbroken but respectful of the band’s show in entirety. The three musicians stood in a row and the lo-fi strumming of “I Love You, Ugly” gracefully flared into the room. At last! Elated that they’d saved the best for last, the song felt personal; King Tuff, in that 45 minute set had grown to love, without question, each member of the crowd smiling back up at them.

King Tuff photo by Daniel Coston

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