“I love what I do,” King King front man Alan Nimmo told me a few months ago, “and I want the audience to love it with me.”
The clearly thrilled singer and guitarist achieves exactly that at the band’s biggest London headline show to date. As soon as the quartet hit the Shepherd’s Bush Empire stage to the strains of Free’s All Right Now, Nimmo starts sharing the love. With the broad grin of a gregarious host, his fists raised in excitement, he welcomes the punters with a cheery “Happy new year” before even playing a single note.
That level of engagement never falters, as he asks the crowd to help sing set staples like You Stopped The Rain, warmly introduces new keyboard player Jonny Dyke, sends his love to a fan celebrating their birthday tonight, elicits cheers for his mother who’s livestreaming the show at home, or simply raises his hands to clap along to Waking Up. So by the time he introduces new song Find Your Way Home to open the encore, one audience member thinks nothing of shouting “I love this song!” loud enough for the entire venue to hear.
But charisma alone isn’t enough to carry a two-hour show. Which is where the songs and musicianship come in. Since forming in Glasgow back in 2010, King King have become capable of writing blues-rock songs with mass appeal and then, in the live arena, transforming them into magnificent anthems.
So A Long History Of Love begins quietly, all mournful Hammond organ, shuffling bassline, and minimalist jazz drumming. Via a rousing solo from Dyke and some steaming playing from Nimmo, it swells to a crescendo, before taking a breath as the singer delivers a few lines from far behind the microphone. And by the time its 12 minutes are up, the epic has scaled even greater heights of impassioned performance.
Rush Hour, met with whoops and wolf whistles even before Dyke finishes playing the opening riff, gradually gains momentum as drummer Wayne Proctor especially begins to play with a power and intensity matching Nimmo’s vocal. A brief keyboard interlude does nothing to break the song’s stride as it builds ever towards a call and response interaction with the audience.
And A Stranger To Love is simply impossible to pin down. Over the course of more than 10 thrilling minutes, it’s a smoky blues ballad, a soaring soul hymn with Nimmo’s voice in full flight, a ‘70s Bad Company hard rocker, and a masterclass in guitar virtuosity capped by a brief amp-free solo that leaves close on 2000 people silenced in disbelief.
Dropped into a set of such established live favourites are a selection of tracks from their latest offering, the classic rock-leaning Exile & Grace. Feisty lead single (She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ kicks off the show and sets the mood for the good times to follow. Broken nestles a message about taking care of our planet inside a song that Deep Purple could have recorded in the early ‘70s. And the Deep South vibes of Long Time Running add another vibrant colour to the ever-expanding King King palette.
By the time they wrap up the night with the tried-and-tested Let Love In and its audience-echoed refrain of “let your love shine in, let your soul shine bright”, the group prove yet again that they thrive on the perfect fusion of charisma, songs, and musicianship.
As Nimmo put it to me: “An honest and genuine rapport with the audience is key to having not just a great night but a great, long career.” On the basis of their Shepherd’s Bush Empire gig, King King’s career looks set to be just that.