King’s X have been one of my favorite bands ever since I first popped their newly released second album, Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, into my Walkman cassette player and listened to it religiously every day until the tape eventually wore out. I’ve got the CD now, of course, and 21 years later it remains one of my favorite albums of all time.
Gretchen prompted me to run out and pick up their debut album, Out of the Silent Planet, which I found nearly as amazing, as well as every album the band has released since. Our relationship took a turn for the worse in the late ’90s when their songwriting and production consistency began to waver significantly starting with 1998’s Tape Head, when they switched to Metal Blade records, and it just continued to go downhill from there. They finally redeemed themselves somewhat in 2008 with their much-improved XV album.
I have seen King’s X live about a half dozen times, the first being during their 1994 Dogman tour, and most recently opening for Porcupine Tree last year, and they are still one of the best power trios in the business. Like Rush, they are able to create a huge wall of sound in concert with only three guys, but you often miss out on a lot of the additional guitar (and the occasional sitar or dulcimer) parts that Ty Tabor layers all over many of their best tracks. I’d love to see them take an extra guitarist with them on tour.
The thing that has annoyed me the most about their live performances over the last decade, is that they now tune their instruments down at least a whole step from the original songs, which makes the mix sound a lot muddier, especially with Doug Pinnick’s bass pummeling your internal organs to a pulp during every song. His bass is tuned so low and so loud in concert now that it completely dominates the mix. I think the Navy uses him to transmit VLF signals to nuclear subs patrolling the Arctic circle. Just compare the two bonus performances from 1990 and you will see how much better their live sound was back then, especially the lead and harmony vocals.
With that said, the mighty King’s X have fi-i-inally released an official concert DVD (the bootleg-quality Gretchen Goes to London doesn’t really count) and their faithful cult of fans should not be disappointed. This has been my most anticipated concert DVD release of the last decade, so although my criticisms may sound a bit harsh, it is only because my expectations were so high.
Live Love in London was recorded in January 2009 at the Electric Ballroom in London, England, while King’s X were touring in support of their excellent XV album. The British have remained very loyal King’s X fans throughout the band’s career, and Pinnick lets them know that London is his favorite place to play—and I believe he is sincere.
The 19-song set list chosen for this DVD is a strong one. With 12 studio albums, and a wealth of killer songs under their belt, their set lists are always going to disappoint a lot of the most ardent fans. At every King’s X show, you will hear fans yelling out song requests between every song, and then grumbling about which of their favorite songs the band failed to play. Here’s me: “What, no ‘King,’ ‘Out Of The Silent Planet,’ ‘Mission,’ ‘Prisoner,’ ‘Pretend,’ ‘The Train?’ WTF?” You’ll hear a lot of that on this DVD too, and Pinnick tries to calm the overzealous fans with, “If we keep coming, and you keep coming to see us, we’ll do them all sooner or later.” And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.
They play at least one song from each of their first seven albums, and wisely skip over their four forgettable albums from the early part of this last decade. Hardest hit was their latest album, XV, with five selections. “Groove Machine” serves as the perfect show opener, and its “Welcome to the Groove Machine…” chorus lets you know exactly what this band is going to serve up all night. The XV songs all hold up very well against the classic King’s X material, especially “Pray,” which saw Pinnick break out his 12-string bass for the first time, and make this performance one of the show highlights.
One of the most noticeable victims of the down-tuned, bass-dominated live King’s X sound was the Gretchen Goes To Nebraska track, “Pleiades.” It damn near sounds like a dirge compared to the majestic album version, and Ty Tabor’s tired-sounding lead vocals didn’t really help matters either—although I was amazed to read that Doug Pinnick turned 60 this year, which would explain why his vocals sound so spent now, and why they need to down-tune everything. To watch the guy rocking out on stage with his shirt off, displaying some freakishly ripped abs, and the least amount of body fat I’ve ever seen on a non-Mr. Olympia contestant, you’d swear he was not a day over 45. He is starting to look eerily similar to Iron Maiden’s Eddie, circa the Seventh Son period, though.
The concert really starts to heat up during the second half of the set when they follow the amazing “Summerland” with a jaw-dropping, 13-minute version of “Over My Head,” which has Tabor showing why he should be ranked alongside best hard rock guitarists in the business, and then finds pastor Pinnick offering another one of his uplifting sermons to the “first church of rock & roll.” The encore sets keep the momentum going with a magnificent “It’s Love” and the progressive funk of “We Were Born To Be Loved,” before completely pissing me off by letting the crowd sing the entire performance of “Goldilox”—all by themselves. It was certainly charming for the first 30 seconds, because these Londoners did sing their collective arses off, but just not the ENTIRE goddamn song. Fortunately they made up for it by ending the show with a couple of virtuosic stunners in “Visions” and “Moanjam.”
My version of Live Love In London was the very nicely packaged deluxe DVD/2CD edition. The overall production quality of the DVD was quite good, the only exception being the terrible camera direction that kept your eyes darting between different camera shots every split second. Don’t get me started on this idiotic trend that these idiot directors still force upon us concert DVD lovers, making otherwise excellent concert DVDs nearly unwatchable. The audio was provided in both Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo, and they both sounded good, but as with any recent King’s X show, the bass simply overpowers the mix. Crank up the volume with caution my friends, as your subwoofer might just scream for mercy before eventually disintegrating into a pile of ash.
The widescreen picture looked about as good as possible, considering that the band’s rather weak light show did not exactly make for the ideal filming environment. They have a lot of spotlights positioned at the back of the stage that shine directly out into the audience and into the cameras, instead of down onto the stage. Bonus features included a very short behind-the-scenes feature, and live performances of “Fall On Me” and “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something,” which were taken from their 1990 Gretchen Goes to London video.
Although Live Love In London is not exactly the ultimate King’s X testament—I’d give my right nut for a professionally filmed DVD from the King’s X or Dogman tours—it does show that these guys are still relevant. After being together for nearly 30 years, King’s X are still churning out some excellent new music, and as they aptly demonstrate on this DVD, they can still bring it live.
01. Groove Machine
06. Lost In Germany
07. Black Flag
10. Go Tell Somebody
12. Looking For Love
14. Over My Head
15. It’s Love
16. We Were Born To Be Loved
Performance – 8/10
Production – 8/10