By Kyle Schmitt (@KyleRadioviolet)
Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires were so loud I could only watch comfortably from the very back table of the Black Cat’s elevated seating area. A spirited delivery engaged the whole room, however, and this group (particularly the Williamson brothers rhythm section) ripped it up in their opening set. Birmingham native Bains wears his southern heritage and liberalism like badges, and delivered a grad school civics course onstage, tackling subjects ranging from Medicaid expansion to American imperialism in his lyrics. The song “We Dare Defend Our Rights” takes a dim view of Alabama’s state motto in the wake of the state passing its own “show me your papers” law aimed at immigrants. Bains’ lyrics link different eras by comparing “four little girls in Sunday school” with “the hijos watching Papa patted down in the blue lights and siren’s noise.” There were positive memories to convey too, as Bains sang of his father kicking back and watching 1970s stock-car races in “Dirt Track.” He delivered an unflinching look at his state’s highs and lows, then sported an Alabama baseball cap while greeting fans post-show.
King Tuff was fittingly introduced with smoke and the Ghostbusters theme song. His crew brought a lighthearted attitude to the stage, drawing hearty approvals from a favorable crowd just by asking if they want to hear another song. Tuff sounds best while howling over his own riffage, as on “Wild Desire” and “Freak When I’m Dead”. But he showed welcome versatility when he kept the vocals subdued while imploring, “I wanna shine / so show me your secret.” While Tuff hit his highlight with a fiery “Bad Thing”, his ethos was best represented on “Biggest Hearts”. He admits to having “scraggly hair and wild eyes” while asserting that scary-looking schlubs can be the kindest and most generous dudes around. Credit for his powerful three-man set also goes to bassist Magic Jake, who threw free t-shirts to fans after Tuff broke a guitar string, and drummer Old Gary, who Tuff accused of farting black smoke.
Esoterica: Quote of the Night goes to King Tuff after laying eyes on an Orioles fan: “I see a Baltimore cap out there … I’m from Detroit.” He then affirmed that he was here not for the ongoing O’s-Tigers playoff series, but for rock ’n roll and to party with everyone… Tuff’s merch table puts one in the mood for Halloween. There are Frankenstein and hooded skull t-shirts, the latter of which “glows in the dark” according to a saleslady wearing ghoulish green facepaint … The guy sitting next to me in the Black Cat’s street-level cafe complained that some bully was making fun of his blond mullet. An hour later, a woman took a surreptitious camera-phone shot of the haircut in question while standing 10 feet behind him.