Friday, March 3, 2023

King King - Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, 2 March 2023

It’s not so much a homecoming as a homegoing gig for King King, as they kick off their latest UK tour with their first headline show at the Barrowlands in Glasgow.  But whether coming or going, they seem well limbered up as they crack into the swinging, driving fun of ‘Dance Together’, on which the tidal wave of Jonny Dyke’s organ is well to the fore.
The front end of tonight’s set represents a bit of a shake-up, with an opening batch of songs drawn from their latest album Maverick and its immediate predecessor Exile & Grace.  They
King King get the widescreen treatment

freewheel their way through ‘Long Time Running’, which is right in their blues-rock wheelhouse but also underlines the degree to which vocal harmonies are now part of their armoury, even
more on the money now than when I saw them a year ago.  Meanwhile both a tough ‘Heed The Warning’ and ‘Broken’ speak to Alan Nimmo’s state of the world concerns, both environmental and social.  It’s over five years since these tracks first saw the light of day on Exile . . . , but his introductions confirm – in very Nimmo-like unstuffy fashion – that he believes the lyrics are as relevant now as then.  The sensitive ballad ‘By Your Side’, on the other hand, leans into the personal space, capturing the emotional tug of seeing someone in pain and being unable to help them.
Good as these songs are, there’s an inescapable change of gear when they reach back to the classic ‘Long History Of Love’, which despite Nimmo’s comment that it’s about his “miserable love life” is as uplifting as ever, with Dyke getting properly soulful on organ as a preface to Alan Nimmo getting to grips with his hallmark scorching guitar solo.  ‘Waking Up’ provides a familiar upbeat groove, before ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’ slips into more reflective territory, full of
Alan Nimmo has a "jaggy kilt" moment
light and shade and featuring startling, pinpoint harmonies on a line of each verse – vocal teamwork that’s surely the product of some precision rehearsal.  There’s precision too in the crackling guitar harmonies that follow, but the Nimmo brothers make these seem as easy as falling off a log.
These elements are pointers to fresh possibilities, but ‘You Stopped The Rain’ is an old friend in the set, and if it’s now smartened up with an a cappella harmony intro, the highlight is still Alan Nimmo’s dramatic, diamond-sharp closing solo.  ‘Rush Hour’ lets the King King choir stretch their tonsils in time-honoured fashion.  Which is fun, of course, but not as invigorating as what they do with the following ‘I Will Not Fall’, which may start off as a tough funk strut but is then transformed when Stevie Nimmo lets rip with a stonking solo, leading to another bout of sizzling brotherly guitar harmonising.
To my mind these twin guitar moments are where new horizons may appear, to paraphrase a Thin Lizzy line.  Not that I’m suggesting they should recreate their Nimmo Brothers vibe.  No, but I reckon that with two guitarists this good, there’s scope for them to explore a new level of six-string interplay, especially live.  (Pondering this, my mind flitted back to 70s outfit Lone Star – remember them, anyone? – whose debut album featured a couple of blazing twin-lead wig-outs.  But I digress.)
Back in the present, Alan Nimmo demonstrates his blues credentials with his wonderfully fluid soloing on set-closer ‘Stranger To Love’, again featuring his trademark “silent running” spot, with the crowd just about managing to respect the need for quiet.  And when they roll out ‘Old Love’ as an encore – a special selection for the night, perhaps – Stevie Nimmo, not to be outdone, delivers his own brand of top flight bluesifying.
This latest line-up of King King are now thoroughly bedded in and comfortable with each other – a bit of a daft observation when three of them were playing together when they were metaphorically in short trousers, but it’s still true.  They’ve got a new album coming later in the year, and I look forward to them really stepping up and showing what they can do.
Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, with just a couple of guitars for company, might seem like an odd fit
Glenn Tilbrook - cool for cats, of course
for a support slot with King King – and I encountered some folk at the end of the night who said as much.  And to begin with I was inclined to think an hour-long set might be a bit ambitious.  I needn’t have worried. Tilbrook is a real pro who knows what he’s about, he still has a terrific, distinctive voice, and with a set full of great songs he had a big chunk of the audience lapping it up.
It wasn't all just Squeeze hits either, as he chucked in their lesser known but excellent ‘From The Cradle To The Grave’, and a cover of The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ of all things – a song many a veteran rocker might run a mile from, but which fitted in very nicely indeed.  He also had a bit of fun with ‘My Boy Lollipop’, but the real delights were the likes of ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, revved up by some nifty guitar riffing; ‘Another Nail For My Heart’, with the crowd providing rhythmic backing for his classic solo; and the picture-painting of ‘Is That Love’.  And of course more besides.
Back in the 80s the BBC revived the hoary old pop programme Juke Box Jury.  One week the panel included Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, who opined on a new Squeeze single that it was probably what some people would call “well crafted”, and he hated “well crafted”.  Twat.  On his best day Gartside couldn’t get near the songwriting genius of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, as this solo set by the latter neatly demonstrated.
King King and Glenn Tilbrook are touring Britain until 30 March – full details and tickets available here.

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