The lights were dimmed, the stage was set, a few distinctive, discordant chords drifted out from behind the plush maroon drapes, and the sold-out Heimathafen quietened to a hush. When the curtains finally drew back to reveal Archy Marshall and his band, silhouetted against a backdrop of midnight blue, the crowd erupted.
The theatricality was fitting, given that King Krule’s second Berlin show within six months has been sold out ever since announcement. The teenaged, fiery-haired East Londoner has ridden a wave of acclaim since his self-titled EP was released in 2011–a relentless storm that shows no indication of waning. The first full length, “6 Feet Below the Moon,” has been out almost a year, a 14-song epic that will push and pull you through deepest heartbreak and back out the other side. It has sent Marshall and his three accomplices around the world, peddling their unusual, evocative sound to clamoring audiences far and wide.
Suited in smart brown two-pieces, straight out of the 1950s, Krule and company look like sullen public school boys who have mistakenly found themselves on stage. When the band started up and, with little introduction, launched into “Has This Hit,” any possible doubt was nullified. It’s a chaotic song, one that showcases the many facets of King Krule and band: walls of noise follow picked-out, slacker guitar, and are underpinned by incredibly astute jazz percussion, along with samples from hip-hop, soul, and deep, deep blues. Marshall’s influences are eclectic and draw from a deeply multicultural London background and a family history long intertwined with its local scene. This musical tapestry is a precisely crafted backdrop for Marshall’s dense, often caustic lyrics. As ever, his shockingly graveled baritone is ocean-deep and raw–both inviting and interrogative–as he demands, “when I look into the sky/ there’s no meaning/ am I the only one believing / that there’s nothing to believe in?”
Dancing from tropicana-vibed “Ocean Bed,” to “Cementality,” a dissonant, full-bodied ode to being weighed down by a love long lost, it’s a skilled, seamless performance that reflects the non-stop touring of months past. As long-serving friends, the band has a seemingly psychic communication that lends itself perfectly to a sound that is loose, intuitive, and constantly surprising.
When “Lizard State” kicked in–an angular, offbeat take-down punctuated by Marshall’s bobbing and weaving–the aggression was startling. “I don’t care for sunny days,” he spat, words flying, “if I can’t have it then no-one can.” Flickers of blue and yellow lighting were woozily disorientating, and there was a strong smell of weed floating overhead. Marshall cut a strangely intimidating figure in his slightly-too-large suit, direct, accusatory, and pained. Putting down his guitar, and stepping out from behind his mic stand, Marshall stood front and center, eyes shut, breathing deeply, as the bass thundered past him.
Next up was a loose, smoldering version of “The Noose of Jah City,” from King Krule’s earlier EP and, after a swift guitar change, b-side “Little Wild,” a spacey, urgent track that saw Marshall crack the first smile of the night.
Suddenly, he visibly relaxed. For the next fifteen minutes, King Krule and band whirled through their better-known catalogue; crowd favorite “Baby Blue” was drawn out, savored, completely un-rushed. Followed by a storming, infectious rendition of “Rock Bottom,” the audience was shaken awake from its reverent hush and brought to its feet, and by the time the band reached lead single “Easy Easy,” there was dancing and whooping from floor to balcony.
Marshall is a seasoned performer and it shows. King Krule is the most recent of many different monikers, and he’s evidently a born story-teller. The evening’s closer was one of his earliest tracks, written as Zoo Kid, and it was the first that really attracted attention. Despite the twinkling guitar work, sparse percussion, and crooned delivery, “Out Getting Ribs” is just as lyrically abrasive. “I’ve gotta be leaving now/ girl, I’m black and blue/ so beaten down for you,” Marshall’s voice bent and waivered, hypnotic and completely absorbing. The packed Heimathafen was held, fully caught until the last reverberations faded.
Insistent, stamping feet demanded an encore, and when the bashful-looking band ran back on stage, they once again, for a second, looked incredibly young. Drummer George Bass jumped high, triumphantly punching the air, and Marshall gave the crowd an awkward salute before treated it to one last song. “Foreign 2” was wobbling and atmospheric, and over far too soon. As the lights dimmed once more, the band left Marshall alone on stage. “Thank you for coming, Berlin,” he said slowly, with feeling, before disappearing into a haze of blue.