I've written many times about how stupid I was in my record store days in the mid- to late Eighties, about what a snob I was for no reason, and how I shunned what was really a D.C. scene at its absolute peak even as I was too busy seeking out some (usually) lame import 4AD CD at Tower or Olsson's. And while I worked with Rich from The Now eventually at the Record Co-Op and he did get me to broaden my mind a bit, before that I was pretty much stuck in a rut.
One rare exception was the period in 1987 when I was going semi-regularly to D.C.'s Back Alley Cafe with my buddy Wolfgang. I was just coming off a really really bad relationship and in desperate need of getting back to normal and hanging out with Wolfgang at this place did the trick. I mean, where else in this city was some wannabe-Eurotrash-Goth chick gonna excitedly grab my hand and pull me to the dance floor when "Collapsing New People" by Frank Tovey got played by the DJ?
Now, all that being said, Kingface were only marginally a "Dischord band"; they're only on one official release from the label (1989's charity comp., State Of Our Union), and, listened to now, their music seems a huge middle finger at that whole straight edge crew. Ironic then that they are now lumped in with that stuff when, at the time, Kingface were really on the outer boundaries of all that. So I guess even though I sort of missed out on a lot of the great music being created in this city up until my "awakening" in 1989, when I at least tried to listen to local stuff for a change, I was lucky enough to have seen Kingface at the Back Alley Cafe in 1987. In fact, it could very well have been that same gig from which that pic up there was taken (from the band's official Facebook page). All I remember was that maybe my friend Wolfgang, or one of his friends, described Kingface by lumping them in with a local set of artists that included Peach of Immortality, an act that intrigued me and whose singer was dating a friend of ours who looked just like Danielle Dax. My memory fades a bit but I just remember thinking that at least Kingface was a local band I had actually heard of in 1987, even if I knew nothing beyond the name.
But enough of all that. I'm here to reminisce in order to highlight a superb new live release, recorded in 1988 at the 9:30 Club, of Kingface at the absolute peak moment of their power. Charging and unapologetic hot-blooded rawk permeates this new vinyl release, Kingface Live at the 9:30 Club, out now via Not Like You Records.
Kingface -- sometimes written King Face -- was Mark Sullivan on vocals, Patrick Bobst on guitar, Andy Rapoport on bass, and Larry Colbert on drums -- and they rocked. Look, no one is gonna listen to this now and mistake ANY of it for something resembling the Dischord sound. Sure, there are moments on "I Don't Want To Be Anything" or "Life Keeps Getting Longer" that echo contemporary tracks from Scream, or the sort of funky punk that Soul-Side would pursue but, really, in all honesty, what we're hearing here is closer to Jane's Addiction -- the early stuff, when they seemed a bit more unhinged -- or even the first few singles from Soundgarden or Mudhoney. Now, don't you dare say that word -- ("Grunge!") -- 'cause this set is far tighter than the sludge-y nonsense that the Northwest would soon unleash on a suffering college rock fan-base in 1988 or so. Still, "Crawl Into Tomorrow" does have a sort of swagger to it that makes it totally unlike a lot of what Dischord was putting out in 1988, and "Words Taste Good" is downright sinister and closer to early Kiss than anything else, complete with blistering hard rock guitar solo here from Bobst. I suspect that Kingface were contrarians all along and, like peers in 9353 and Black Market Baby, recoiling from the strict guidelines it seemed that the whole post-Straight Edge generation was still grappling with.
Looked at now, the scene then was far more diverse than perhaps a lot of outsiders understood. The superb 2014 documentary from Scott Crawford, Salad Days, had a passage of two that got at this diversity. And, maybe things were rougher for the bands operating in the shadows of the big guns on the Dischord label, but harDCore was a far more open-minded community than a lot of people realize. For a spell at least, it seemed as if Kingface were going to break out and be this area's answer to Alice in Chains. But thank Christ they did not, right?
Collected here on this wonderfully-sounding set from 1988, the band's live show was a super-tight-like-James-Brown's-band-review of the very best sort of hard rock that didn't indulge in pyrotechnics, though all the players here shine as musicians, nor did it bludgeon a listen with any kind of strident message. Partly-party music dressed up as punk rock, the tracks on Kingface Live at the 9:30 Club make up an essential piece of documentation of the D.C. scene at a very crucial moment, when the straight edge shackles were coming off, and bands like Kingface, Rites of Spring, Scream, and Soul-Side were redefining what harDCore could be.
Kingface Live at the 9:30 Club is out now via Not Like You Records.
[Photos: Kingface Facebook page and Not Like You Records]