If there is one thing King Krule is, it is a musical anomaly. Krule – also known by his given name, Archy Marshall – has a back catalogue that twists its way through genres, ranging from the free jazz of Ornette Coleman to the early-doors post-punk of Billy Bragg. Lining up with his typical associates, Marshall’s band consisted of lead guitar, drums, bass, saxophone, and a variety of electronics to provide the audio-atmos.
Doors for the gig opened at seven, unleashing on Manchester Academy an army of students lining Oxford Road, fencing off the University campus. The queue stretched from the venue all the way to Manchester Museum, with ties, mullets, and moustaches in abundance. It was a crowd full to the brim – leather on leather, corduroy on corduroy.
The shadow of Ignacio Salvadores’ baritone saxophone loomed large over an eager crowd, but taking centre stage was Marshall’s signature sunburst Fender Mustang, adorned with its characteristic Tipp-Ex-white doodles. Just peaking over the band’s setup was a banner – the artwork from his newest LP, Space Heavy. The art itself was a collage made by Marshall, demonstrating that, if anything, King Krule is one man’s artistic vision; the many stories of his angst, anxiety, and frustrations of being a young man.
Not one for extravagances, the band walked on in silence – a powerful cheer not even slightly phasing them as they readied their instruments. A chant of “Archie!” bubbling up to a fever pitch showed how impatient the crowd was. Krule – back turned to the audience – stood for a brief second before finally, those first few echoey notes emerged and ‘Cellular’ kicked in.
As the motoric rhythms of the Man Alive track reached top gear, punters were trapped in the band’s rhythm; locked in by the kick-and-snare patterns of George Bass’s frenetically tight drums. Krule stomped around the stage, glaring down each corner of his audience. As the set flowed from ‘Alone, Omen 3’ to the trip-hop fan-favourite ‘Dum Surfer’, Marshall’s punkish drivel became more apparent, as he spat his lyrics into the audience. The moment echoed vintage clips of Ian Dury singing ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’: aggressively poetic.
When his vocals weren’t being doubled by Salvadores on a distorted, warbled mic, the sax player himself would be roaming the stage, swinging his arms around and almost imploring the audience to focus on him, if just for a moment. The image of him hunched over, screaming backing vocals into the barrel of his sax still sticks in my mind.
If there is anything to differentiate Krule’s fantastic live album You Heat Me Up, You Cool Me Down from the live experience, it’s the resoundingly powerful bass. King Krule in many ways shares a lot with hip-hop artists (think Earl Sweatshirt or Tyler, the Creator), and his live sound seems only to accentuate this. Between the sounds of aggressive bass guitar, a throaty baritone saxophone distorted to hell, and synthesizer sirens, every inch of the mix is drenched by sound.
However, when the time came, Marshall was eager to show off some of his more reserved tracks. Slowing down, the group entered a medley of tracks off his newest LP – with ‘Flimsier’ seamlessly flowing into ‘Seagirl’, to ‘Tortoise of Independency’ and beyond. The slower things got, the more Krule’s band drew you in, allowing for more and more focus on the introverted angst and frustration present on his newest LP. Marshall and his group were not afraid to give certain tracks the space they deserved, sometimes pausing for 10 or 20 seconds before kicking straight back in.
Once the sombre reflections were over, Marshall gripped the audience by the throat once more with ‘Easy Easy’, bringing the entire Academy to a triumphant chorus. At that point, he could have done anything and that crowd would have followed. He even managed to get them to ‘meow’ before his cat-themed closer, ‘It’s All Soup Now’.
Flowing through the last few hits left (‘Rock Bottom’ and ‘If Only It Was Warmth’), the set slammed to a close in the same way it had opened. With his triumphant last act – the emphatic encore of ‘Out Getting Ribs’ – those who weren’t before were now converted; an audience of almost 3000 belting out “And hate runs through my blood.”
King Krule is touring Europe until November 9: tickets here. Space Heavy is out now.