It’s the last night of King Loser’s ’16 Comeback Special Tour, back together for their first shows in years. After seeing their recent re-appearance at Neck of The Woods at Others Way festival, I’m keen to see what they can do on a bigger, better stage. And it might be the last chance to see them for a while, who knows.
There were three support acts tonight, who warmed up the gathering crowd as follows:
Psychik Witch – Loud. With bashy drums from Stefan Neville, and a wall of guitar noise, vocals from the frontman wailed loud and long over the top.
Diana Tribute – Louderer. Like a massive submarine sweeping slowly through the depths of the sea floor and clearing everything in its wake. Sonic barnacles include Paul Blanchard’s curious vocal effects, which at times sound like an angry Donald Duck. Three of the band members sit at the front of the stage, while others sit on high stools on either side playing various instruments, as a blue light and clouds from a smoke machine shroud the room in a veil of mystery.
The Echo Ohs play a decent solid set. They have time to play many crowd faves and hits. Regular live gigs have made this band even tighter – and the spacious stage and great sound at the KA only adds to their slow loping, self-assured riffs and Yolanda’s well placed whoops.
And then it’s time. King Loser take to the stage around 11.20. They start with a brief instrumental intro ‘Surf Lost’ and straight away you know these guys mean business. They follow up with ‘Dawn’ and ‘Hey You’, and by the time they hit ‘76 Comeback’ – a regular crowd pleaser – they’ve really hit their stride. Looking and sounding as good as ever.
The kaleidoscope visuals really suit them tonight – hypnotic patterns of blossoming colour projected on the back wall – mirroring the undulating waves of sound as the show unfolds. The sound is rugged, slow burning, an exploding star of surf rock grittiness, and above all, enduring. King Loser sixteen years on look like they still have it, and are still loving it, despite comments from guitarist Chris Heazlewood like “digging each other’s graves” and “psych ward” – referring to fun times on the road these past few weeks.
The drums were a driving force tonight, the sound of Tribal Thunder’s beats tumbling out to the fore throughout the performance. This was complemented by the towering figure of guitarist Sean O’Reilly, who stood facing the drum kit as the two of them carved out an excellent base for the tag team of Chris and Celia’s riffs.
Other highlights were ‘Stairway To Heaven’ (Highway to Hell) – you gotta love those lyrics, and there’s something about the way these two deliver them. Celia says she has a cold and can’t really sing but her vocals still sounded pretty sweet tonight. My favourite cover of theirs – the Grateful Dead’s ‘Morning Dew’ sounded great as always. There were some nice moments in the Dolly Parton duet, I enjoy watching them trade lines in songs like this, seems almost harmonious. And of course there were those gnarly, sprawling instrumentals.
The set ends with Celia proudly modelling one of the new band t-shirts (purple with a dark orange print, a striking combination). She turns to Chris, who gives her the thumbs up in approval. They thank us and leave the stage, last chords still ringing out. There are no encores tonight, but they played for a good hour. I think we got what we wanted.
I’m kinda glad I wasn’t comparing tonight to their earlier shows, (I’m not sure I saw them til around ’99 or 2000, my memory’s hazy on that). One friend who saw them a lot in the mid-90s, said tonight’s show wasn’t as good as he remembered them. Not that he was complaining, he still really enjoyed it. They sounded good but looser, he remarked, forgetting the chords in some places or mixing up lyrics. (This comment rang true as it turns out – when I saw the photo of the set list later, it’s humorously entitled ‘King Looser’)
Another friend commented early on in the set – “They sound even better now. They’ve suffered, they’ve had pain…” As if this adds an extra edge, that makes it more real and less ‘show biz’. Less of the kung fu kicks, more of the music. It’s that raw energy, the sense of them really wanting to be there and enjoying it for what it is now. I got a real sense of that tonight.
If this is the last time I see them, I’m glad I was there to witness it. If you missed out, you may have to wait for their next reunion, which is hopefully just around the corner.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Chris Zwaagdyk: