Whenever I see a show at the High Dive, I inevitably reminisce about its sleazier, more characterful prior incarnation, the storied venue Common Grounds. Ah, how often I once supported myself against these rickety barstools, how many cheap beers I once spilled upon this concrete floor. While the paint might be fresher and the bathrooms more serviceable, the gritty spirit of my misspent youth was resurrected there this past Martin Luther King Day when Ex Hex and King Tuff churned out a torrential set of blistering rock for the receptive north central Florida crowd.
Turnout for the show was striking, particularly considering that it was directly competing with a gig featuring Municipal Waste and Torche at the nearby Atlantic. Typically a sleepy college town, Gainesville has been spoiled for choice of late, with a groundswell of decent shows throughout January. After a countrified repast of barbecue from nearby Wholly BBQ, I was greeted at the door by the promoter. I can attest that this happens infrequently, since folks requesting press passes for shows generally don’t occupy significant real estate in the minds of individuals invested in getting as many paying customers through the doors as possible. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised when the affable Rob of Strutter USA shook my hand and welcomed me in. It augured well for the evening, and I was instantly placed in a capital mood.
Gainesville locals Dirty Spoons opened, performing admirably in light of the fact that they had only acquired their bassist that very day. Lead singer John Stoltzi described their sound thusly with a smattering of onstage banter: “People say we sound like a 90s throwback band, but I don’t really get that. Anyway, here’s a song about how I want to fuck Winona Ryder.” Pumping out fuzzy garage garnished with the better elements of early Smashing Pumpkins, the Spoons acquitted themselves as appropriate support for two of the rockinest bands I’ve had the privilege of seeing recently.
After a brief intermission and a protracted sound check, Ex Hex took the stage, and my enthusiasm mounted. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Mary Timony’s latest project, and consider their recent release “Rips” one the outstanding albums of 2014. I also may have made mention of my schoolboy crush on Timony, and the disco ball sequined cardigan draped over her airbrushed tiger shirt only served to amplify my affections. A deluge of guitar raged forth, her apparent nonchalance belying her impressive talents. Bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris provided an equally lethal rhythm section, commanding the crowd’s attention and prompting shouted requests and barbarous yawps of approval. Brassy and loud, Ex Hex delivered a riotous performance. Between their rowdiness and the delicate fall of the Timony’s dazzling sweater across her left shoulder, I nearly forgot they weren’t the headlining band.
King Tuff, the thoroughly scuffed up persona of Kyle Thomas, detonated a scuzzy bomb of garage- shrapneled glam rock redolent of Electric Warrior era T. Rex. Thomas looks like Charlie Day if he served in Vietnam, bassist Magic Jake might be mistaken for a bowling alley employee, and I’m fairly certain drummer Old Gary is my mechanic. Grimy appearances notwithstanding, King Tuff tore through an intense set worthy of songs entitled “Headbanger” and “Wild Desire.” Performing before a skull emblazoned backdrop, Tuff’s enthusiasm overtook the crowd, which responded with mutinous approval. A fan in a gorilla suit leapt onstage, and the members of Ex Hex even shoved their way to the front of the crowd to pogo with the thronged hipsters. In the many shows I’ve borne witness to, I’m not sure I’ve ever observed an opening band so compelled to abandon the merch table and rock out with the rest of the concertgoers. It was inspiring.
All told, Ex Hex and King Tuff has been the best show I’ve seen of 2015 (I admit that it’s only January). Though I have lofty hopes for forthcoming Parquet Courts and Neutral Milk Hotel performances, a high fucking bar has been set.
King Tuff is on tour throughout the United States now, and Ex Hex heads for the UK in February. Bring some aloe when you see them, to soothe your melted face.