This past Friday, the Marcus King Trio kicked off their highly anticipated drive-in tour in Yarmouth, MA, a charming Cape Cod burrow situated just a few miles from the shorelines of some of New England’s most picturesque beaches.
The Marcus King Trio is an offshoot of the Marcus King Band composed of lead singer and guitarist, Marcus King, percussionist Jack Ryan, and one of the jam band music world’s rising bass players, Stephen Campbell. Although the MKB Trio is made up of two-thirds of the players in the Marcus King Band, the sonics of the two outfits are, in some ways, quite divergent.
Marcus King Band concerts typically lean more towards the jam band side of the live music spectrum. Extensive jams, out-of-left-field covers, a crushing wave of music bolstered by resplendent keys, and a robust horn section carry the day at any given Marcus King Band live show.
Conversely, the Marcus King Trio is more of a stripped down rock and roll juggernaut that aligns much more closely with the likes of the Eric Clapton-lead Cream versus other more prog-rock oriented trios such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer or even Canada’s own Rush to which the MKB Trio may be hastily compared. Although fans can expect to hear a fair number of Marcus King Band songs at any given MKB Trio show, the band, which only books a few live appearances a year, sticks mostly to MKB’s early catalog of recorded music in addition to a myriad of ’70s vintage, guitar-oriented rock covers.
Prior to getting into the details of this past Friday’s show at the Yarmouth Drive-In, it’s probably important to apply the disclaimer attached to any live concert being held during the strange days and time: fans should attend these drive-in concerts with an open mind and judge them solely based on the merits of what these live experiences bring to the table. What fans should probably not do is attend these performances and attempt to compare and grade them against the countless live shows they attended in the pre-COVID-19 world.
These drive-in concerts are all socially-distanced affairs that require those who attend them to remain within a few feet of their vehicles without the ability to interact with the band or most of their fellow concertgoers. Additionally, depending on the layout and the logistics at these drive-in venues, fans are often relegated to listening to these performances via their cars’ radios.
Although this doesn’t sound like a terrible restriction, the inherent problem with this approach is that most fans simply don’t stay in the cars throughout the duration of the show. Instead, most individuals stand outside of their vehicles, turning up their respective car radios to varying levels of volume while the band, often without the assistance of a PA system, emanates sound from the obstructed-view stages on which they’re playing.
These conditions create an environment that even on the best of nights does not lend itself to a high-quality auditory experience. The exception to this rule will come into play at a select number of drive-ins that actually have a public address system on site. In these instances, fans will often be treated to a live music experience that sonically mirrors that of any concert that may have attended in the past.
The MKB Trio’s show this past Friday was an FM Radio-only experience with plenty of local police and venue staff patrolling the aisles reminding patrons to stay in their lanes and keep their masks on. Despite these facts, King, Ryan, and Campbell—as well as the show’s opener, the immensely talented Early James—should be commended for fighting through these barriers and some of the technical limitations the venue’s setup presented them.
James kicked off the night of music with a selection of soulful and emotionally gripping acoustic numbers. Although most of the music James played was melancholy in nature, the singer was still able to inject a fair amount of humor into his set. Decked out on stage with a blue denim jacket and a fedora that looked as though it was stolen off the set of Martin Scorsese’s ’70s cult classic, Mean Streets, James made some fairly amusing quips that included his thoughts on Easter with the singer commenting on the holiday, “When I think about Easter I always think about a ripped Jesus pushing that giant boulder in that cave out of his way.”
Following the song’s conclusion James amended his previous thoughts on the track while chuckling, “Well I guess that song is actually more about my grandmother than Easter. Who knew?”
Despite the socially-distanced nature of the performance, the kind of levity and humanity James displayed throughout his set helped endear him to an audience of New Englanders that was in large part unfamiliar with his music. James’ music is so deeply personal and intimate that not having a traditional audience to connect with surely affected his mental approach to the show in Yarmouth. James himself seemingly made reference to this notion early in his set when the Alabama-raised crooner asked the audience to “bare with him” because he was feeling kind of “annoyed.”
Despite his level of comfort being disrupted, James was able to make a more intimate connection with the Massachusetts-based audience as his set moved along. At one point towards the end of his time on the Yarmouth Drive-In stage, fans were even hooting, hollering, and whistling at (and for) James, which on some level must have made the singer feel more at ease and assured him that, perhaps, these drive-in shows won’t be as uncomfortable as he initially thought they may be.
Like James, the Marcus King Trio’s set this past Friday in Yarmouth took some time to pick up steam. The top part of the band’s set felt somewhat awkward and even a bit forced at times. Early on, King looked somewhat uncomfortable as he and his bandmates tried to acclimate themselves to the unusual conditions that these drive-in shows will present over the next few weeks.
It would be difficult to properly grade the performance from an auditory standpoint alone, as unlike James before them, the MKB Trio had to incorporate electric guitars, basses, and drums into the equation. The distortion created by the additional instruments onstage and the delay caused by the scattered audio sources around the car “crowd” made the show’s audio output uneven at best. At times, the music being played on stage could be heard clearly. At others, the performance was rather difficult to make out.
Any patrons who chose to stay in the cars and listen to the duration of the performance inside their vehicles were ultimately treated to a fairly solid outing by King and company, the only problem being that the vast majority of patrons that attended the Yarmouth show this past Friday couldn’t muster the discipline to confine themselves to their vehicles for four hours—can anyone blame them for that approach?
Surely not, as bear in mind, just about every person that attended the show has been locked in their own proverbial caves for six months or longer. It would be tough to expect that concertgoers, of all people, would be willing to barricade themselves inside anything with the venerable Marcus King playing guitar just a few yards away from them.
The evening’s set somewhat closely mirrored “Rock Night,” the third installment of the Marcus King Band Four of Kind live streams at which King had Brent Hinds from Atlanta-based metal outfit Mastodon join the trio on stage in Nashville.
Marcus King Band tracks from the band’s first few studio albums such as the explosive “What’s Right”, “Opie” (which featured a mid-song breakdown of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young classic “Ohio”), and “Keep Moving” (which saw both Ryan and Campbell step to the forefront) all made appearances. Other songs on the Yarmouth setlist included new tunse “Love is Blind,” which had a Killers meet The Revivalists vibe, and “Heavy Metal Heart Attack”, a track that seamlessly fit into the ’70s power rock theme with which the evening of music was aligned.
Other highlights included a blistering take on Buddy Guy‘s “I Smell Trouble” which King turned into a smoldering blues masterpiece, Foghat‘s 1972 rock radio hit, “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, and an emotive rendition of the Leslie West-lead Mountain track, “Never In My Life”.
Fans in Yarmouth were also treated to a performance of a rarely played Marcus King Band song, “Spirit of Thunder”, that to my knowledge, has only been played twice in the last five years, as well as a couple of songs from King’s critically well-received solo record, El Dorado, which included more recognizable tracks such as “One Day She’s Here” and eventual show-closer, “The Well”.
Although the MKB Trio’s show in Yarmouth, MA this past Friday may not go down as one of the band’s greatest live shows ever, the performance will always have a special place in Marcus King Band history for a number of reasons. More importantly, King and his bandmates in New England proved that bands can still put on live shows that fans can connect with and talk about for days—if not weeks and months—on end.
As the performance drew to a close, King bowed to the Yarmouth audience and quietly stated, “I wish I could come out there and hug each and every last one of you, but I promise we will back real soon.” Based on the audience’s reaction to that statement and the show as a whole, it goes without saying that, socially-distanced or not, fans will continue to line up in droves to get those hugs from King and to take in live performances from one of the greatest rock and roll bands on the planet today.
Scroll down to see a gallery of photos from the Marcus King Trio concert in Yarmouth, MA on Friday, September 4th, 2020 courtesy of Andrew Blackstein.