Kings of Spade Bares Its Soul

Review of Their Oct. 19th Show at Tropicalia Lounge

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Lead singer KC. Photo: Leanne Tankel

With her signature pink Mohawk, clothed in black, KC, lead singer of Kings of Spade, is easy to spot. I introduce myself. Her infectious smile lighting up the dark interior of the Tropicalia Lounge, she graciously offers to buy me a drink. I decline, in no way wanting to deplete her resources. Kings of Spade has made the trek all the way from Honolulu to share their unique hybrid that their band’s guitarist Jesse Savio describes as “Energy Rock Blues Soul” on Oct. 19.

Reminiscent of nineties raves, Tropicalia Lounge’s décor is carefully curated to suggest attitude as much as design. This intimate performance space is punctuated by abstract or surreal works of art. People cram in to listen, let loose and party.

We’re not Ravers anymore, and, DC has exploded with must-see daily music offerings. Brilliant, little known musical talents do not always garner attention. Kings of Spade’s heartfelt, soul wrenching, rock-tastic performance was, unfortunately, missed by many.

Guitarist Jesse Savio, drummer Matt Kato and bassist Tim Corker provide a backstop to KC’s unbelievable voice. In the tradition of Janis and Aretha, she launches into Mess of Me, a punch in the gut tune reminiscent of Joplin’s Piece of My Heart. Despite having sung this stunner a million times, KC exudes a raw and unbridled pain.

The band follows up with Funk and Boys in the Band, two standouts from their 2009 debut Crave. The songs pay homage to the iconic Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. The riffs that recall these great rock acts and infuse them with a rollicking blues, funk.

The tunes confirm KC’s lyricism. The stories she tells at the show provide context for the wails and grit she delivers. KC came out as a young teen in a family that couldn’t fathom queer. Surviving this has brought her both personally and musically to the present day. KC is truly The Strange Bird that she sings of.

A particularly “sweet” and dance-worthy track, Sweet, is introduced with chocolate covered macadamia nuts, an offering from the band’s Hawaiian home. “I have found the one, and this is for her,” KC joyfully shouts to the crowd, before launching into “sweet like heaven….. sweet like all possibilities….yeah…..you’ve got me on my knees…..sweet, sweet, sweet….”

KC descends from the stage to join her dancing fans repeatedly, confident in her own skin, finally. Her raw unfiltered talent exudes a style that both mirrors the past and projects the possible.

The Way She Goes, Kings of Spade’s latest single, should command critical attention. The next time Kings of Spade visits DC, we should all be there…in spades.

A concert junky, music aficionado, and live music reviewer for Hill Rag and DC Music Review, Leanne Tankel studied writing at both UC Berkeley (BA) and Boston University (MA). In addition to music reviews, she writes prose and her manuscript, Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage, was a 2011 short-list finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Awards program. Leanne lives with her three sons and two pugs in Northern Virginia