King Tuff mixes psychedelia and sentimentality at Teragram Ballroom

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Sometimes all you need is good ole fashioned rock ‘n’ roll to heal your soul. Or at least an intimate, three-act Thursday night at Teragram Ballroom with King Tuff topping the bill.

Epitomizing the coziness of a neighbor’s opened three-car garage, the venue transformed into a space rye for vintage guitars and hand-me-down dirty drums. Touring his most recent studio album The Other, King Tuff decided to wrap up a six-week tour with twangy rocker Cut Worms and the weirdly fresh Sasami in the best way he knew how: with style.

Starting the night off strong, Sasami — also known as Sasami Ashworth formerly of indie band Cherry Glazerr — affectionately addressed the audience: “Hello, bitches.” With only her electric guitar in tow, Sasami offered a Wednesday Adams attitude with Karen O’s Crush Songs sensibilities. Each tune was a portrait of intimacy, sexuality, and the small moments in relationships that end up meaning the most. Her in-between song banter was off-beat and disarming in a way that immediately put the audience on her side. When someone yelled, “I’m feeling it!” after a particularly emotional track, she quickly remarked, “But where are you feeling it? That’s what I thought.” Heartfelt music plus a wink-wink character means you’ll want to catch Sasami out in a heartbeat. She’d join King Tuff on keys later on that night.

Soon after, Cut Worms shifted the room’s energy from Sasami’s raw playfulness into clear-cut, salt-of-the-earth rock. Decked out in western shirts and dirty boots, Max Clarke and his band sipped on PBR from cans and announced they’re from “greater New York” (turns out they’re from Brooklyn, by way of Cleveland). Scratchy drums and cowboy hats added to the vintage authenticity of the performance in a way that was both charming and earnest. Playing tracks from his debut Hollow Ground, Clarke channeled the Everly Brothers in sound and Bob Dylan in storytelling; his hair gave hints at a young Jim Morrison, but his soulful croon felt like a 60’s take on Jason Isbell. Ultimately, the memorable combination brought heart and soul to Cut Worms’ bluesy melodies and twangy sounds.

Rounding out the evening’s unique variety, King Tuff — also known as Kyle Thomas — brought closer together an already engaged audience with only an acoustic guitar and soft voice in almost darkness. Opening with his record’s title track “The Other,” King Tuff channeled his Sub Pop label-mate Father John Misty and sang the sentimental lullaby with energy and a wry grin. Colorful tubed lights lining the kick drum and surrounding amps made Thomas’ patterned suit stand out on the bare stage. It wasn’t long before the acoustic was gone and King Tuff erupted like a garage band with brand new instruments.

Psychedelic sounds and romantic lyrics delighted in “Circuits In The Sand” while the dance-y “Psycho Star” mixed groovy pedals with fun synth and infectious vocals. Like a troubadour from another time, Thomas checked in with the audience every so often to remark, “We are so full of joy up here.” When he and the band bobbed their head, the audience followed in perfect unison. It became increasingly easy to lose yourself in the groove of the performance and King Tuff led the crowd with style and grace. With a scrappy edge that felt familiar and warm, Teragram Ballroom became a safe and intimate space awakened by classic rock ‘n’ roll over the course of the night — and King Tuff was our ultimate healer.

Photos and Words by Kat Manos (Website | Instagram)