Back in March, the live music industry began to feel the ripples of uncertainty that laid ahead due to the rise of COVID-19. By early April, any cautious optimism that live music would return in the near future had slipped into the same darkness that has subsequently left countless venues across the planet in a state of suspended animation.
As the spring inched closer to the dog days of summer, glimmers of hope began to shine through the caliginous atmosphere that had engulfed the music industry as a whole up until that point. Bands and musicians began to awaken from their forced slumbers and migrate to an entirely new touring format that, at least for now, has become the new normal. The age of traditional live music performances has temporarily come to an end. Welcome, friends, to the epoch of online streaming concerts.
Like most of their contemporaries, The Marcus King Band had been floating in uncharted waters. It would have been quite easy for them to put together an online show or two to satiate their fans and recoup some of the revenue lost when tours were put on hold worldwide. The southern-fried rock and soul outfit hailing from Greenville, South Carolina, however, chose a path as yet untraveled for their big step into the online concert arena.
Enter the Marcus King Band’s Four of a Kind, Live From Nashville online concert series, the brainchild of frontman and generational guitar talent, Marcus King. What was originally conceived as a one-off show from Nashville quickly morphed into a unique string of performances, each with their own exotic nuances and flavors, airing each Monday night over the course of four weeks. We’re now halfway through the four-week series, with a full-band MKB performance of King’s debut solo album, El Dorado, and a Marcus King & Friends set featuring Billy Strings and Maggie Rose already in the rearview.
As we’ve now reached the midpoint of the Four of A Kind series, now is as good a time as any to delve into the first two shows and examine what worked well, what the performers may have struggled with on this new medium, and what fans can expect from the final two installments of the online concert experience.
King’s first solo effort is, in many ways, a stark departure from the guitar-driven jam band sonics on which the Marcus King Band made their bones; slow-burns intertwined with tales of love and loss make up most of the material on El Dorado. Thus, it should come as no surprise that King and his bandmates chose to enlist the services of rising vocal talents Maggie Rose and Kate Barnette to supply the backing vocals embedded within the heart and soul of El Dorado for the live recreation. King also tapped his good friend, Peter Levin (The Peter Levin Band, Aaron Neville, Gregg Allman Band)—who actually played a string of shows with the Marcus King Band back in the summer of 2019—to bring a little extra organ muscle to the live series’ opening proceedings on July 13th. With his MKB bandmates and this impressive stable of guests in tow, King brought the critically acclaimed El Dorado LP to life.
With Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” playing in the background, King drove his Cadillac—the album’s namesake—onto the Nashville sound stage, exited the vehicle, grabbed his guitar and immediately launched into one of the stand out tracks from El Dorado, “One Day She’s Here”, to kick things off.
As Maggie Rose told Live For Live Music about King’s grand entrance, “Marcus is such a boss. When he drove that Cadillac onto the sound stage, got out of it and then turned around with that cowboy hat on and all that hair, man, that’s going to be an iconic image of Marcus fifty years from now.”
[Photo courtesy of The Marcus King Band – Marcus King and Maggie Rose]
“One Day She’s Here” also turned out to be a smart choice as a show opener, as it’s likely that the vast majority of Marcus King Band fans recognize from King’s solo debut released last January. As the first song of the evening wound to close with one of the Marcus King Band’s trademark jams, the band seamlessly transitioned into a cover of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel”. The band’s take on blues legend’s staple quietly announced to the audience streaming the show that they were in for much than just a by-the-numbers play through of El Dorado.
King’s symbiotic connectivity to the heart and soul of the old blues is one of the primary reasons he’s so easily able to connect with audiences both young and old, as well as many of his peers, who are oftentimes decades older than King himself. The B.B. King cover also served in some ways as an introduction to the band’s new keyboard player, Dane Farnsworth. As the song progressed towards its middle section, Farnsworth took the reins and delivered a beautifully paced sojourn that would eventually bleed into a resplendent solo by King himself to close the tune out.
There were more than enough high points from the first night of music to please just about any Marcus King Band die-hard. Barnette and Rose pushed El Dorado tracks such as “Break” and “Love Song” to glorious heights. The band’s renditions of probably the two tracks on El Dorado that wouldn’t feel out of place on any Marcus King Band Record, “Turn it Up” and show closer “The Well“, reminded fans of the type of bombast King and company can unleash in a live setting at any given moment.
The only Marcus King Band song of the night, “Plant Your Corn” turned out to be a launchpad for the talents of both Levin and MKB bassist Stephen Campbell. However, the show also proved that even artists as talented and as seasoned as King are going have to find their footing within the realm of the online streaming show universe if they ever expect fans to continue to buy into the premise as a whole.
Night one of the Four of a Kind series felt at time awkward and even forced. This is in no shape or form a knock on the band and the time and effort they put into bringing the El Dorado record to life, but rather an honest critique of the medium. The circumstances involved with moving from a traditional concert experience to a format where fans have to consume their live music from a distance was bound to have an effect on the overall product until all bands make the slow adjustment to what is now the new normal.
Jack Ryan, the Marcus King Band’s drummer and co-founder, offered his opinions to Live For Live Music on what felt different about night one as well as how the absence of fans in attendance may have impacted the performance.
“The effect fans have on a live show often times happens gradually over the course of an entire show,” Ryan explained. “When you play without fans, the energy level can fall off entirely and things with the band on stage can sometimes get stagnant even if everyone is locked in.”
That change in perspective, however, may have also had some positive effects on the performance. As Ryan explained about the first of four shows, “Because there were so many variables and different people playing with us I was so focused on the music that it was easy for me to loose sight of the fact no one else was in the building. … Because of those factors, I felt as though the vibe of that first show felt like it existed somewhere between an intense rehearsal and just one of our normal live shows.”
Maggie Rose also offered up her opinion on the effect of a virtual-only audience on the performance. She explained, “There were definitely times during the first show where Marcus and the band would reach this high level of intensity, then all of a sudden the song would end and because there wasn’t audience present, there just wouldn’t be any place for all of that energy to go.”
Despite all that, Rose was also quick to point out a sentiment with which Ryan concurred: “Just getting to play music and actually be able to get in a room with other musicians was so exciting and refreshing that it far outweighed any discomfort any of us may have felt.”
Last Monday was AMAZING! See yall again TONIGHT at 8PM CT for Night Two ♣️Four of a Kind ♣️Live from Nashville with friends @BillyStrings & @IAmMaggieRose! After each performance airs it’s available on-demand until August 11. Tune In Anytime! Tickets here: https://t.co/1Z8fVDUdBe pic.twitter.com/Fp2yoDnxJ2
— The Marcus King Band (@Marcuskingband) July 20, 2020
Night two of the Four of Kind series on Monday, July 20th, dubbed “Marcus King and Friends,” included guests appearances by King’s pal, bluegrass hero Billy Strings, as well as the talented Ms. Maggie Rose.
Any demons with which King and his fellow performers may have wrestled on night one were clearly exorcised in the second installment of the Four of Kind series, as this past Monday’s show was an absolute barn-burner from its outset.
King began the second night’s evening of music by taking to the stage in Nashville to perform three songs by himself. The frontman kicked things off with one of the most beautifully written tracks from the Marcus King Band’s 2018 Carolina Confessions LP, “Remember”, before switching out guitars for a heart-wrenching rendition of a track he co-wrote with the since departed Rocky Lindsley, “Guitar In My Hands”, one of the seminal tracks from the Marcus King Band’s 2016 self-titled sophomore release.
King’s final solo acoustic song of the evening came in the form of the Blaze Foley classic, “Clay Pigeons”. King dedicated the song to the late John Prine and his family as King pointed out that his connection with the song was more rooted in the version the recently deceased Prine had recorded back in 2005.
Fans watching the live stream were also treated to the first-ever live rendition of one of King’s new songs, “Bipolar Love”, which turned out to be yet another platform for the immensely talented Rose to shine. Rose remained on stage with King and his bandmates for a few more songs including “Autumn Rains”, the very first track she ever performed with King in a live setting at Marcus’ King’s Grand Ole Opry debut last September.
Those taking in the stream from their living rooms also had the opportunity to experience yet another first as Rose took lead vocals on the next song, “What Makes You Tic”, a track that she recently co-wrote alongside King. By this point in the show, it had become obvious that any of the jitters or rust or live stream format issues or any issues had completely dissipated.
Rose touched on this particular topic, explaining, “I definitely felt with the second show, ‘okay, now I’m home.’ The word of these times is ‘unprecedented,’ and there’s a little sadness to the readjustment everyone had to make to their plans for this year. The production values for the the first two shows were amazing, but I think the ambiguity of the first show made things that first night a little heavy at times.”
[Photo courtesy of The Marcus King Band – Marcus King and Maggie Rose]
Like all great artist, King, Rose, and all the performers involved with the Four of Kind shows powered through whatever mental obstacles the first show had laid before them to rise the occasion on night two. Said Rose, “By the second show, it felt like there was this camaraderie that had been created over the course of night one. All of us now knew that we could rely on each other and that this was going to be a gift to those who needed music as well as a gift to ourselves.”
The second half of the evening belonged to King and another one of his Nashville neighbors, bluegrass firebrand Billy Strings. King and Strings spent the remainder of the evening tackling a unique set of covers that spanned from blissfully beautiful to downright explosive.
Although each and every song played during the second half of the “Marcus King & Friends” set was worth its weight in gold, two songs in particular stood head and shoulders above the rest. Had the dual-guitar attack King and Strings deployed on a raucous cover of the Jimi Hendrix‘s “Highway Chile” been the only song offered up to fans for the the second Four of a Kind session, almost everyone watching at home would have felt they still had got more than their money’s worth.
Without ever coming up for air, the band then launched into a glorious take on the Allman Brothers Band‘s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. Even beyond proving to be another opportunity for King and Strings to absolutely wow the live streaming audience, this “Liz Reed” also offered up a fair number of highlight moments from a few of the other performers on the stage. Jack “The Animal” Ryan had his first truly brilliant moment of the series via one of his signature drum solos while both Levin and Farnsworth proved once again that they belong on stage with power hitters like King and Strings.
[Photo courtesy of The Marcus King Band – with Billy Strings]
Night two of King’s Four of Kind series was a thunderous response to an at times uneven night one. More importantly, it stood as a declaration to any of the band’s peers that it is indeed possible to put on a live show that fans can connect with and cheer for, even if those cheers have to be heard from afar.
Additionally, the second evening of music embodied, to a degree, King and his bandmates throwing down the gauntlet and announcing to the entire live music community, “We’re at the top of this mountain, come try to take the King’s live performance crown if you dare.”
Good Times with @BillyStrings and @IAmMaggieRose on Four of a Kind ♦️Live from Nashville! Night 1 & 2 are streaming on-demand until Aug 11! More surprises next Mon for the ROCK show w/ Brent Hinds from Mastodon. Proceeds benefit @MusiCares, tickets here: https://t.co/z0V6B1lG6d pic.twitter.com/m3YT1Qh2V0
— The Marcus King Band (@Marcuskingband) July 21, 2020
If fans think they’ve seen the best of the Marcus King Band and the performers helping them bring the Four of Kind shows to life, boy, do they have another coming. Next week, fans will have the opportunity to take part in something to which no one on planet Earth has ever born witness as Brent Hinds from Atlanta based metal outfit Mastodon will join King on stage in Nashville for a stripped-down show by the Marcus King Trio, featuring King, Campbell, and Ryan.
When speaking with Ryan about what kind of fireworks fans can expect next week from their journey into the world of hard rock and even metal music, the drummer stated, “Fans can expect next week to be totally and completely badass. Brent is an awesome dude and a total legend. Believe it or not, there’s a fair amount of music that crosses the borders between our two styles of music. We think we chose some great songs that those watching from home will end up being pretty damn excited about. Marcus King Band fans in particular that aren’t familiar with Brent or Mastodon are definitely going to be blown away by the show next week.”
Following this coming Monday’s show with Hinds, the Four of a Kind series will come to a close with a celebration of The Band‘s iconic Last Waltz, which will see a number of special guests join King and his bandmates in Nashville for on August 3rd. For all things Marcus King Band-related simply head to the band’s marcuskingband.com.
Each episode of Four of a Kind is available to stream on demand after it airs until August 11th. Tickets for the remaining two shows available here.