Thursday night’s King Tuff show may have been moved from the as-yet-unopened Stone Fox on 51st Avenue North to the VFW outpost down on Charlotte Pike, but that certainly didn’t curb the mounting buzz surrounding the forthcoming venue. The Spin arrived at The Stone Fox — or more accurately, Fox co-proprietor Elise Tyler’s house across the street — to find that we’d just missed out on the complimentary pre-show tacos. Still, we managed to rustle up some watermelon salad, a bit of small talk with the cool crowd and a quick peek at the venue under gloomy skies before heading down the block to Coco’s Italian Market for a massive plate of fettuccini bolognese. The Spin was ready to party, by God.
Our favorite element of VFW Post 1970 is that surprisingly comfortable overlap in the hipster-redneck Venn diagram: All the rock ’n’ rollers are happy to order PBR and Miller High Life, and the staff — relentlessly busy as they were on Thursday night, bless their hearts — is happy to serve it. Plus, drunken hipsters tip better than you’d think, and both sets are pleased as punch to be able to smoke their Pall Malls indoors.
The sold-out crowd was bustling and chattering, but everyone managed to meander toward the stage as joke-folk duo Birdcloud kicked off just after 9 o’clock. With Makenzie Green in chartreuse tights and a bikini top and Jasmin Kaset in some sort of jersey-esque tube miniskirt, Birdcloud faced one another, plugging along in that artless if endearing manner of theirs on guitar and mandolin. We’ve seen the ’Cloud, oh, a handful of times (is there a bill they haven’t played on in the past six months?), so we were as prepared as one could ever be for their two-minute folk ditties, all of them stuffed with sarcastic melisma between grunted, semi-harmonized, caterwauled verses about getting fucked up at the Springwater, swimming-hole jealousy, blowing rodeo clowns, living with your granny, being “Indianer than alla y'all” and “snail trails” — even The Spin doesn’t have the stomach to explain what that last bit means.
Anyway, the duo donned telemarketer-style headsets so that Kaset could perform her trademark solo on Green’s crotch-mounted harmonica during “Saving Myself for Jesus.” But despite the fact that their subtle, nuanced hit “Warshin’ My Big Ol’ Pussy” tends to go over well with most audiences, crowd noise had grown louder than Birdcloud’s tacky-by-design hollerin’ by set’s end.
After squeezing their gear onto the VFW’s modest stage, Natural Child launched unceremoniously — just like we like it — into a set of scuzzed-out blooze-rock tunes, many of them from their forthcoming Hard in Heaven. Wes Traylor did a bit of the old Gene Simmons tongue-wag as he hammered away at mean bass riffs, guitarist Seth Murray grooving along and doubling vocals at his side. There was a number in there we didn’t recognize — something about “Love me or leave me” and “You’re the only woman on my mind” — that had more of a Southern soul-style feel than we’re used to hearing from NC (think Sam and Dave on weed), but we dug it.
So yeah, Natural Child is all Stonesy (they covered “Tumbling Dice” for Chrissakes), riff-fueled, filthy blues rock. And yeah, they stick to the same formula. But there's a magic to it — a slackerdom and weedy nonchalance, fortified by hooks, charm, chops and sweat-soaked fun — that puts them among Nashville's finest live rock 'n' roll outfits. We slipped away to get another beer during Natty C's last number, but we’re fairly sure we heard Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My” … or was it “My My, Hey Hey”?
After a tender intro from Nashville dude and former King Tuff sideman Joseph Plunket, frontman Kyle Thomas & Co. fired off a stellar one-two punch of “Anthem” and “Keep on Movin’” from this year’s eponymous LP. A large, dreadlocked youngster hoisted Birdcloud’s Makenzie Green — bloody elbows and all — atop his shoulders right in front of us, but once we found our way out from under Mak’s ass and past the high-on-youth moshers, we noted Thomas’ ability to burn naturally through some rather complex little lead parts. “Freak When I’m Dead,” as it happens, proved to be a rather apropos rallying call for the flock of haphazardly crowd-surfing little bastards up front, many of them nailing the VFW’s disco ball and ceiling fan as they glided over our heads.
As for the music, Thomas fishes the most visceral elements from every corner of rock ’n’ roll: the mean riffing of cock rock and metal; the zero-fuck-giving stoner ethos of psych rock; the wild-eyed, bumping fury of punk rock; and the strut of glam and proto-punk (the T. Rex and Tom Verlaine similarities being the most obvious, we’d say). Funny, while chatting with Stone Fox employee and door gal Brynne Bowden toward set's end, The Spin called Thomas' general aesthetic "dirty," which Bowden misheard as "nerdy." But there's nothing nerdy about a dude who wears a Flyers cap and a feather earring, shreds like the devil and sings about sun medallions.