Our previous encounter with London’s King Charles was at last year’s Castlepalooza festival, when Charles Costa and cohorts played what turned out to be one of the most crowd-grabbing, riotous and downright fun-filled sets of the weekend. Once of Adventure Playground, a band who did the rounds with Laura Marling and Noah & The Whale, Costa then took on his latest moniker and released ‘Loveblood’ last year. There was never a question we would be in attendance for his return trip to Ireland, so it’s off to Whelan’s for a night of what the man himself would describe as ‘glam folk’.
Goldenplec enters (apparently having missed the first opening act, but more on her later) to an already near-capacity, buzzed-up venue. The stage is devoid of bodies but looks busy nonetheless, with instruments wedged in every which way and mic stands angled all over the place. A man appears from the side of the stage and starts working at a Mac, and the room is filled with loud, deep, funky beats. For a while it’s difficult to tell whether this is a soundcheck or a show, until Giovanna Marshall appears, clad in what looks at first glance like martial arts gear – headband and all – and thus meaning business.
She sings over the backing track, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this is the tail end of a tour for her; energy levels seem low, and the vocals miss the mic at times, but every now and then she seems to pull some reserve energy from somewhere with an occasional burst of dance. The ambience of certain tracks is countered with an undercurrent of audience chatter, an odd indifference during the songs which does nothing to aid the performance. For every ‘phoning it in’ moment there is a counterpoint, whether it’s Marshall raising an arm to focus the crowd’s attention, those looks of intense concentration that appear when she is at the keys, or a startling vocal performance. The Massive Attack vibe that permeates the gig is compounded when the Teardrop drum sample opens To Be Found late in the set. It’s all a bit ramshackle, with the propulsion coming mainly from our man at the Mac, but we can only guess this is down to tour fatigue.
A full Whelan’s cheers as intro music swells, four men enter and pick up instruments, and Charles walks onstage. It’s immediate – a call and response back-and-forth with the band and a rocking solo section from the first shout, and it doesn’t let up from here on in. Loveblood follows, and the crowd let themselves be heard, as the band proceeds to tear through their album. Mississippi Isabel proves itself to be a clapalong Caribbean-tinged jaunt that slows the tempo effectively as it powers down. Coco Chitty ups the grunge factor, all tender verses and rock-out choruses, and Costa proves he can shred with the best of them as Mr Flick keeps up the pace.
Polar Bear is the lumbering beast that the set revolves around – all men down guitars and contribute to a dark, tribal, percussive performance. The two guitarists bang drumsticks and toms at either side of the stage, while Costa stalks around between them in an emotive and theatrical performance. A new song and a new singer follow – well, new to us. Jessica Tonder, the support we missed earlier, re-appears to contribute, and we’re kicking ourselves. Her vocals are a perfect foil to Costa’s, and it’s a fine, assured performance to go with them from someone who appears completely at home on the stage.
Each tune is as infectious as the last, from the Celtic sounding The Brightest Light that goes through a Sabbath and Led Zep metamorphosis as it barrels home, to the Bam Bam backing vocals and key changes. Even The J Geils Band spring to mind at times, and we mean that in the best possible sense. Lovelust rounds off the set proper, building nicely into noisy guitar rock, and this is the one that sees the phones populate the air.
As expected from Castlepalooza, and no doubt at every King Charles gig, the encore is a rowdy update of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire, a quiet-loud-quiet rendering that sees Tonder re-appear sidestage with a tambourine, only to gradually become subsumed into the thick of it all. Giving it socks she was. The band halt the music and the crowd take up the chorus, one last successful interaction in the mass love-in. Folk/glam/pop/rock/indie whatever you want to call it, Whelan’s was where the party was at this Saturday in Dublin.