Although technically 3 Kings could be tagged as a cover band, there were no real note-for-note covers. Their set at Pop's Blue Moon was full of interpretations of the source material, easily recognizable but not soulless recreations.
The few songs that were mostly note-for-note still had some attention-grabbing, unexpected twists like the effect-laden bass solo during the Meters' classic "Cissy Strut" or the "that isn't Billy Gibbons but it fits" stripped-down guitar solo during their version of ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses." I especially enjoyed their vocal harmonizing during "People Say" and a fantastic reworking of the Lennon/McCartney track "Don't Let Me Down."
About halfway through the set the guys snuck in part of an original piece that they have been working on. If that snippet shows the path they are taking, they'd better get some Speed Stick now because the real deal is going to be funkier than an armpit after gym class.
Shortly after 3 Kings departed the stage, Trevor Exter and John Kimock, also known as XvsK, took the stage and eased into their first tune without a word. By time that first song was over, everyone's attention was focused solely on the duo.
As a whole, these two virtuosos were creating sounds that were larger than what I expected two people to make. The duo's rendition of Bill Withers' hit "Use Me" sounded nearly identical to the original, despite the fact that the original was recorded by a sextet. Their driving rockers like "On the Night Train" were highly charged and had more than one head nodding.
Watching Trevor Exter play the cello is a sight that everyone should experience at least once. The amount of sounds he draws out of his instrument is astounding. On moment he's strumming chords thicker than a slice of chocolate cake, the next he's plucking and sliding around bass lines with skill that would make Charles Mingus take note. He has great skill at utilizing percussive and rhythmic elements in his playing, tapping the bridge and strumming the strings as if he were playing guitar. He also utilizes digital delay and a sampler on the fly, creating loops mid song to serve as a background while he solos over the top, giving his compositions the sound of a full band with a single instrumentalist playing.
Vocally Exter sounds like a mixture of Harry Connick, Jr. and G. Love with a little Bill Withers thrown in for good measure. Whether he's belting out tunes about songwriting skill like "Hits" or crooning William Bell's mournful classic "Everybody Loves a Winner," Exter's voice exudes a bucketful of soul.
Much like Exter's flawless technique, John Kimock's skill with a drum kit is something to be witnessed. As he was setting up I noticed how small his kit was. One cymbal, a hi hat, a snare, a tom and a kick drum, all very compact. Once he started playing, there were more sounds coming out of that setup than Terry Bozzio playing his kit at full tilt. I was taking notes on my phone through their set, and when I entered the word "percussion" the auto-complete changed it to "precision," which was more accurate than the idea I was trying to transcribe. Although he demonstrated some lightning-fast playing, Kimock's skill lies in knowing every square inch of his kit. Speed is impressive, but knowing exactly where to hit to get specific sounds and being able to throw out subtle changes mid-stream shows dedication. Kimock also excels and knowing when not to play, leaving gaps in his rhythm to let the cello rise to the top and join in the overall sound.
After blasting through an hour-long set of mind-blowing originals and fantastic covers, XvsK took a short break and came back to play a second set just after midnight to celebrate Exter's birthday. Even though most of the crowd had left, Exter and Kimock played the rest of the evening with the same level of energy and skill as they had earlier. After we all sang a rousing round of "Happy Birthday" to celebrate the occasion, the guys slid right into a truly inspired slow jazz interpretation of the Police hit "Roxanne."
Seeing XvsK in action is one of those things that really defies translation into words and must be experienced to fully understand the passion and skill these musicians put into their performance. Performances like the one I witnessed are the reason that music lovers continue to seek out new, boundary-pushing music. During the set, a friend of mine asked "Is this what people who say that they've had a religious experience are talking about?" The answer to that question is "Yes."