Celebrating an artistic high mark with a communal experience very much needed.
Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist), Photos by Luis (@luis.hoa):
A week ago today in an upstairs room in bustling Highland Park, a sold-out crowd assembled to bear witness to an almighty coronation that served as the record release for King Woman's new full-length album, Celestial Blues, released that very day via Relapse Records. The evening marked one of the first shows the HOA crew had attended in over 18 months (since Cult of Luna/Emma Ruth Rundle), and it was clear that we were not the only ones relishing being back in a room filled with riffs and the smell of beer spilling on the floor.
King Woman have made a brave leap in their latest record, displaying a level of musical & creative maturity that builds upon everything that both the band & lead singer Kris Esfandiari’s solo work (Miserable, NGHTCRWLR, Dalmation) has produced to date. Celestial Blues possesses a brave confidence, an unforgettable visual identity, and a square focus on Esfandiari herself as chief protagonist in the mix. From the moments even before the band took the stage, it was clear that Esfandiari was more than ready for the band’s long-awaited return to playing in front of a live audience. Ordering the crowd gathered in front of the stage back, Kris directed traffic to open up her own intimate performance space on the floor, encircled with high anticipation.
And it was in that eye-level space that she performed the entirety of the set. With the rest of the full band in a standard stage-height elevation, Kris barely kept her eyes off the crowd. The setting was dramatic & perfect. As a collective, the audience/performer relationship over the past 18 months has been shattered, and this approach to being one with the crowd dramatically heightened the sensory overload of simply being part of the live experience again. Prowling, peering, pirouetting – Kris held a truly commanding presence in this space and showed a powerful confidence in both her own delivery & her relationship with the crowd.
As for the setlist, it drew heavily from the new record. Beginning with album opener & the initial gentle whispers of Celestial Blues, the band erupted in full force as the song reached its peak, with drummer Joseph Raygoza hitting with punishing pent-up force, and the sonic wall of dual-guitar riffs filling every inch of the classic wooden walls of the Lodge Room. The band’s heavy, heaving sway continued straight into Utopia & the crushing Manna off 2017’s Created in the Image of Suffering. Further highlights littered throughout the set came via new cuts Boghz, an intensely dark heavy-hitter and Psychic Wound, which sees Kris deftly shift between softer verses & then shriek and wail in torment, leaving no room for escape.
King Woman are not a technical band, but their hypnotic rhythms, jagged riffs & vocal hooks kept the room on edge and locked in throughout the whole show. Crunchy, sludgey riffs that at times blur the lines between thundering doom and more gentle shoegaze are anchored by a sophisticated rhythm section, all of whom spend the night hidden in a sea of smoke machine & hazy purple & red backlighting. While most eyes were for the most part trained on the enigmatic Esfandiari on the floor, all heads were nodding courtesy of the swelling force emanating from the stage.
Closing the night was the psychedelic, twisted neo-fable Morning Star. Having already garnered a hook in the crowd’s collective psyche via the incredible artistic direction of this first single’s video, this cut is bound to become the band’s signature piece. This was duly confirmed by the audience, filling the void left by Kris’ silence and singing the opening hook, “My name is Lucifer, pleased to meet you!” The band then continued to pound through the rest of this tumbling, woozy saga. It was a perfect ending to a blistering set, and while the track itself deals with the story of an ungracious demise & descent of the anti-hero, it was a clear signal of the band’s own marked ascent. They will undoubtedly continue to soar, best pay your respects now to the KING while you can.
Enjoy additional photos from the performance below. If you find yourself near Brooklyn or Oakland this October, do your part and get yourself to the King Woman show. Until the next string of shows, stream Celestial Blues HERE.