By: Sean Moore / Photos By: Jennie Walker
The crowd was loud, jumping up and down, dancing and it was clear that Barns Courtney took his duty as the opener very seriously and got the crowd going immediately with his incredible set. The English singer had a great stage presence and amazed me with how comfortable he clearly seemed in front of a pack State Theatre. He commanded and orchestrated cheers from the crowd with hand gestures, to which the crowd happily obliged with screams of excitement, as the band played single notes with each hand gesture before a crescendo of noise that brought certain songs to an end. He climbed atop the barricade with security and the front row crowd’s assistance during one of his newer songs called “99” and then, even made his way through the crowd during the climax of his final song “Fire” (featured in a few movies and television shows to helped garner him exposure), which the crowd absolutely went wild for, because any time an audience member can get their hands on a true rock star can make that person’s night. And Barns was happy to oblige and you could tell that he loved the adoration, even if the audience was not necessarily familiar with him when he walked out onto the stage, by the end of his set, they had become fans. The swagger he had as he'd strut across the stage and the way he used his body (at one point even throwing himself to the stage floor at the end of a song) to express the music reminded me of Mick Jagger, maybe it’s an English thing. I was exhausted for him by the end of his set, but clearly the crowd was just getting started.
It is difficult to pigeonhole Elle King's music into a specific genre, as she really seems to encompass several all at the same time, borrowing elements of country, soul, rock, and blues. Clearly influenced by the great soul singers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Karen O. If I had to compare her style to more “modern” artists, she reminds me very much of ZZ Ward.
Elle King, dressed all in black, her platinum blonde hair flowing with the motions of her head as she sang a rousing rendition of “Talk of the Town” that really made a bold statement to the crowd that they were in for one hell of a fiery rock-blues show. The crowd went wild from the first notes of the song and did not stop moving the rest of the night. It was a circus of movements and Miss King, the ringleader. Smiling and pulling no punches while delivering feminist anthems like “Chain Smokin’ Hard Drinkin’ Woman,” “Shame,” “Good for Nothin’ Woman” and “Good to be a Man” (perhaps tongue-in-cheek, I suppose), as well as “It Girl” and “Naturally Pretty Girl” later on in her set.
Elle burst on the scene around 2010 opening for the likes of Dashboard Confessional, Of Monsters and Men, Train and the Dixie Chicks, even Dropkick Murphy’s and Modest Mouse. She’s surely seen her fair share of interesting crowds. With those experiences, Elle King has proven herself a star in an ever-expanding field of artists emerging into the genre-bending spotlight.
With this tour about midway through in support of an excellent album “Shake the Spirit” from last year, comprising most of set, but she includes enough older tunes to keep the crowd happy. Perhaps the highlight of the night was the incredible end to her set with the one-two punch of “Ex’s and Oh’s” followed by “Little Bit of Lovin’” before coming back to the stage for a stripped down version of “America’s Sweetheart” at the edge of the front of the stage for the encore. This was one of those shows that could easily be remembered solely for the energy released by the musicians, but also showcased the symbiotic relationship that exists between the musicians on stage and the audience. Energy feeds off energy. I could not hear one single person talking the entire night and I think it was because nobody was given the chance. Everyone was singing along and dancing. It was a loud, sweaty, fun environment to exist within for the night.