The Woodsist Fest sold out months ago but there’s still plenty of music rising in Big Sur on Friday.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Kyle Thomas is en route to a swimming pool in Portland. The vehicle driving him is zipping way above the legal speed limit to ensure that he’ll have time for a dip before a show later that night. At least that’s what he seems to be saying, though it’s hard to be sure over the sounds of a crowded freeway. But this much is obvious: He’s in a good mood.
That makes sense. King Tuff – Thomas’ alter ego – released his sophomore album a couple months ago and it’s been blowing up. The self-titled LP, recorded in an abandoned Detroit high school, has racked up favorable reviews, with good reason, from mainstream media outlets including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin.
King Tuff is garage, punk, glam, T. Rex love letter and rock revival all rolled into a tight collection of catchy hooks guided by Thomas’ playfully amorphous voice. It’s one of those rare instant classics that you can put on and just let play from start to finish.
“That’s the idea when making an album, to make something you can listen to over and over again,” Thomas says. “It’s gotta be exciting the whole time like a little adventure or a little journey from each song to the next. It’s all about songwriting for me.”
The high-energy opener, “Anthem,” is laden with choruses of hand clapping, crashing cymbals, a mesmerizing guitar solo and a theme that’s just as primal and straightforward as the music: Enjoy the hell out of life or die trying. Thomas sustains the momentum – and further demonstrates his knack as a hitmaker – in the partially reflective, mega-catchy “Bad Thing,” fueled by a simple, muddy blues riff and vocals delivered with Ramones-like sarcasm.
In addition to making an incredible record, there’s another reason Thomas has been smiling more than usual lately: He recently got his Gibson SG guitar back from the repair shop.
“I was trying to do some stupid move and I dropped [my guitar] and cracked the headstock,” he says. “It’s my only guitar so I was pretty bummed, but she’s working pretty good now.”
The Vermont native will be armed with his beloved SG on Friday night when King Tuff performs an intimate late night show at Fernwood Resort. And don’t think that Thomas will be taking it easy on the six-stringed beauty just because she was recently hospitalized.
A few hours before King Tuff unloads, singer-songwriter Bill Callahan will be on hand at the Henry Miller Library for a screening of Hanly Banks’ Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film, followed by a short performance.
Banks – a former script coordinator for Flight of the Conchords – approached her feature-length filmmaking debut armed with inspiration from some of the best tour documentaries ever made including Don’t Look Back (Bob Dylan), The Last Waltz (The Band) and Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones). One of the main things that stuck out for Banks in the classics: They were all made decades before modern day devices like iPhones had become ingrained in the fabric of every day life. In Banks’ opinion, those films would have been a lot different if they were made during the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates era.
“I think technology has made our lives really boring and absent of action,” she says. “The journalist in Don’t Look Back has to go to a payphone and read everything he’s written out loud just to get it printed, which is interesting to watch. What’s not interesting? A dude checking Twitter on his phone.”
Banks made a conscious decision to keep gadgets out of the picture in Apocalypse and venture into spaces where human interaction still happens like city buses and street corners. Banks’ iPhoneless world also fit well with Callahan’s Apocalypse – rated 23 in Pitchfork’s top 50 albums of the year – the LP he was touring behind when the film was shot in 2011.
In a way, the seven-track album is Callahan’s version of an all-American novel rife with surreal imagery, like Kris Kristofferson serving as a captain in the U.S. Army.
On the intentionally ostentatious “America!,” Callahan constructs a Gil Scott-Heron-esque satirical collage of the country as an electric guitar solos freely in the background.
Banks says some of her favorite moments of the film are when Callahan is around animals because it’s an accurate window into his character, “a literal manifestation of his whole philosophy and the idea of being open to the world.”
The soul-exposing, nearly 9-minute “One Fine Morning,” is another window into Callahan’s character: “And the mountains bowed down/ In the morning sun/ Like a ballet of the heart.”
Apocalypse was an ambitious undertaking for Banks, especially since she took on the role of director, editor and cinematographer. But with someone like Callahan as her subject, the film pretty much made itself.
“I went into [the film] with pretty abstract intentions,” Banks says. “Every time I would see something through the lens or in editing that clicked, it was like ‘Yes, this is the film I wanted to make.’”
KING TUFF performs at 10:30pm Friday, Aug. 3, at Fernwood Tavern and Campgrounds, 47200 Highway 1, Big Sur. $15. 667-2422. www.fernwoodbigsur.com/music.html
BILL CALLAHAN film screening and performance happens 7:30pm Friday, Aug. 3, at Henry Miller Library, a quarter mile south of Nepenthe Restaurant on Highway 1, Big Sur. $25. 667-2574 www.henrymiller.org
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