Just about three months ago, King Tuff released Smalltown Stardust, a simple life homage by singer and multi instrumentalist Kyle Thomas to his little slice of paradise up in Vermont. The album is an existential roller coaster made up of soft psychedelia tunes folded into bigger life questions like belief in a higher being, the movement of time and a deep love of nature. Wednesday night at Johnny Brenda’s, the crowd peered into this corner of the mind of King Tuff.
Reminiscent of 60s garage rock/psychobilly trios, New York’s Tchotchke started the night out with an opening set. Right off the bat, band leader Anastasia Sanchez was electric behind the drums, her presence even behind a kit filled the whole room. Bassist Eva Chambers and guitarist Emily Tooraen added to the fullness of the band’s sound and perfectly pitched group vocals, like in sunny-feeling “Ronnie” off the band’s self-titled.
Tchotcke’s ten-song set was tight, Sanchez’s unique voice sometimes counting everyone in before the crowd’s applause faded out. The band’s self titled album is their first and dropped last year. Tchotchke played a winding and fun live version of the album, bouncing around the track list which had moody, slow songs like “What Should I Do?” to “Longing Delights”, a fast and upbeat song about lust.
Friendly and warm off stage, people who stopped by after their set to say hi at the merch table walked away with an actual tchotchke.
In true rockstar fashion, Kyle Thomas burst onto stage with a wide, open mouth grin to the crowd randomly picking eye contact with one of the cheering crowd. Very much packed, Johnny Brenda’s welcomed him with open arms. Although the life questions weren’t answered, the crowd were enveloped in King Tuff’s own emotions during “Portrait Of God” and “The Wheel”, which features a big guitar solo which Thomas laid into effortlessly.
Throughout King Tuff’s set, Thomas desperately tried to form a connection between Vermont nature and wildlife that inspired his latest album and “nature” in Philly. To introduce “Pebbles In A Stream”, he asked the Johnny Brenda’s crowd if Philly has streams. Someone answered with a firm no, another with sort of but with less certainty. Thomas’s intro to “Rock River” followed suit but when he asked about swimming in the Schuylkill River, he got a resounding no.
“Is anyone here in a relationship…” Thomas paused followed by a single “Woo!” from the crowd, “…with your plants?”
Amidst his chuckles and excitement, he introduced the first track off Smalltown Stardust, “Love Letters To Plants”.
King Tuff’s band appeared to be both used to and amused by Thomas’ antics. Antics including leaning back to back with vocalist and multi instrumentalist Noel Friesen during guitar interludes and teasingly calling drummer and vocalist Corey Rose “maestro” for their turn in the band introductions.
Wednesday night, the Johnny Brenda’s crowd watched King Tuff play a highly synchronized set. Each member stylistically standing on their own, like bassist Erica Shafer dancing to her melody in time or drummer Corey Rose metronome mind and smooth precision with each cymbal hit.
A little past halfway and in a mischievous tone, Thomas announced that he forgot something back stage and needed to grab. It. Before leaving he mentioned the band took requests and knew every song.
As he disappeared backstage the audience began to yell out different song titles. The crowd went from Todd Rundgren to Weezer, so Noel picked his favorite Weezer Song: “Undone — The Sweater Song” after consulting the band. Overjoyed, everyone upstairs at Johnny Brenda’s sang loudly along until the band’s vocals were just back up, the crowd taking the lead.
Thomas reemerged and joined in on the Weezer cover. He now dawned his wizard garb, the shiny pink fabric of the robe glimmered in the lights, a baby blue pointy cap and some shades. Costume changes are all about the reveal and the crowd was all too keen to know we were about to go back in time.
A low hum slowly built up and this portion of the set began with 2014 title track “Black Moon Spell”, as soon as the guitar riff came in the crowd began to dance hard. Then, taking an opportunity to tease the crowd, King Tuff strummed a few notes of “Sun Medallion” off Was Dead and let it fade. A voice carried over the crowd yelling out the title, and with that the bass came in and the band went into the song. Noel and Kyle went back to back for Noel’s solo.
When the Johnny Brenda’s crowd had successfully rallied King Tuff back to the stage, he returned for a solo rendition of “I Love You Ugly” which he ended cutely by changing the last ugly with Philly.
King Tuff officially wrapped up their set with “Bad Thing” which unraveled into lots of dancing and the crowd sometimes singing over the band. Below, check out a gallery of photos from the show; King Tuff’s tour continues March 28th in Montreal, full dates can be found here.