The Marcus King Band Conquers the Jersey Shore
The Saint – Asbury Park, New Jersey – March 1, 2016
By Barry Brandow
I didn’t know much about the Marcus King Band before late October when they played several dates in support of The Revivalists during their tour through Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. As a passionate fan of The Revs, I was lucky enough to get show-by-show updates about this extraordinary band and even see videos that were regularly posted on Facebook by numerous friends. I was blown away by the awesomeness of the band and the remarkable guitar playing skills of the young gentleman for which the band is named, Marcus King. When my friend Patrick told me he heard that Marcus would be getting the euphoric opportunity to play the treasured gold top Gibson guitar (made famous by Allman Brothers founder Duane Allman) I had to write about this “dream come true” moment. Since then I can’t get enough of this incredible six piece band from South Carolina and their 19 year old guitar playing phenom. In fact, I made the mistake of playing one of their full set concert videos while I was typing my last article and I got nothing done because I couldn’t stop watching. When I heard they were coming north and playing 90 minutes from my home near Philly there was never a doubt about going, even on a Tuesday night. Wednesday morning was going to be hectic for me, but I’m guessing the roofers union in the Jersey shore area would be busy as well replacing the roof that was about to be blown off the historic venue called The Saint on Main Street.
Upon entering the intimate club you cannot help but notice the multitude of show posters announcing bands that have played there before. The four walls were covered almost entirely. The opening band, a quartet called “The Stephen Maxwell Trio,” took the stage and I was immediately impressed by their musicianship and chemistry. I was even more impressed when I heard they had just formed a few days prior and many of the songs were being played for the first time. Even if they hadn’t done a cover of the Soulive song, “El Ron,” I would’ve easily known that one of guitar player Stephen Maxwell’s influences was the infamous Eric Krasno. The trio was even given extra time to display their talents as MKB was delayed arriving back to the venue. (Someone had taken the spot reserved for the bands van and trailer)
There was no delay in starting their set as the band took the stage promptly at 10pm. If you’re not familiar with the Marcus King Band you will be soon as word spreads and their organic popularity grows and grows. The mega-talented sextet consists of keyboard player Matt Jennings, bassist Stephen Campbell, drummer Jack Ryan, and the equally amazing brass duo of Dean “the sax machine” Mitchell on sax and Justin “JJ” Johnson pulling double duty on trumpet and trombone. Then there’s the awe inspiring front man Marcus King, who without fancy effects or a collection of illustrious guitars, commands the stage like a “boss” with his 1958 Gibson and single pedal. Compliment that with a voice that would make any blues fan believe in the second coming of Stevie Ray, and you have a sensational combination of talent that fills a room with tenacious but passionate sound. You can easily forget that Marcus is only 19. Those of us lucky enough to be in attendance knew we were in for something really special. With an amazing arsenal of original music from their debut album, “Soul Insight,” on Evil Teen Records, MKB generated jam after jam that had everyone’s jaw on the floor. I even noticed guitarist Stephen Maxwell watching his fellow axman in admiration. Whether it was ambitious drummer Jack Ryan playing the kit like a man with two extra arms or Justin Johnson showing off his multi talents several times on the trumpet and trombone, you couldn’t be more pleased or impressed by everything these guys have to offer. This band is a true gift to music on every level. If you consider great songwriting, pure talent, fine musicianship and tight chemistry as a gauge, then the Marcus King Band is the total package. Before the end of their set Marcus granted a loyal fan named Jerry his request and played one of the most coveted songs in the Allman Brothers library “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” That’s the same song Marcus chose the night he was honored to play Duane Allmans historic gold top in Macon, Georgia. If the roof hadn’t blown off by now it surely gave way during this song. Throughout their entire two-hour set there were several “WOW” moments as each band member stepped to the forefront and displayed their extraordinary talent. The most impressive moments of the night for me were when Marcus kicked into high gear and showcased his virtuoso level skills on guitar during his countless solos. In my 53 years I’ve gotten to see some of the best guitarists play live and up close. I’ve been lucky to see legends like Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa, Eddie Van Halen, B.B. King, and even Stevie Ray Vaughan. After watching Marcus King play from only a few feet away it’s hard to believe there is room for him to even get better than he already is. I have no doubt his name will be added to many lists of the all-time greats.
From Asbury Park, the band ventures slightly north to mesmerize music lovers in the New York area including a show at the beloved Garcia’s in Port Chester. I don’t think it will take very long for the buzz to spread and more people become aware of these six gifted musicians and the awesome music they make. When they finished their set the band mingled with the remaining crowd and expressed their appreciation to everyone for coming out. For those of us that filled this small venue it was a treat knowing we got to see these guys in such an intimate setting and when the show was over we all realized this opportunity probably would never happen again. After seeing and meeting these guys we can only root for their success as they forge onward and upward. I’m going to enjoy the intimacy for now, knowing it will quickly fade, but it will be rewarding in the near future when I can brag about seeing them in a small club in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The band will be aggressively touring throughout the United States from now through the summer including several festivals like Mountain Jam in early June. I can’t urge my fellow music lovers enough to go see these guys when they play near you or are part of a festival lineup you are attending. I also recommend adding their album “Soul Insight” to your music library. It will quickly become one of your favorites.
For tour dates and band information go to www.marcuskingband.com. Add their band page to your list of followed social pages for regular updates and videos. Join their Facebook fan page “Marcus King Band Lion’s Den” to connect with other fans.