The Murlocs played to a packed house at the Sinclair on November 10th with expertly-crafted songs, garage guitar and bass riffs, and one of the most unique voices among rock frontmen today.
Most psychedelic rock fans will know The Murlocs as the side project of singer/multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Cook Craig of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. There were plenty of King Gizzard t-shirts to be seen in the Sinclair crowd, and it was easy to strike up conversation and make friends with random strangers by discussing favorite King Gizzard albums and making comparisons between them and The Murlocs. While it was clear that many in the crowd were exposed to The Murlocs through the Gizzverse, there was plenty of love for The Murlocs’ own material.
There is a greater focus on the craft of songwriting for The Murlocs. Compared to the extended jams of King Gizzard, a number of The Murlocs’ songs featured lilting vocal melodies and a tight ordering of verses and choruses. This allows frontman Kenny-Smith to showcase his incredible voice, while interacting with the crowd through his energetic dancing, something he does much more sporadically when playing with King Gizzard. The Murlocs played nine songs from their latest album, Rapscallion. Most of the riffs and harmonic material for it were first written by guitarist Cal Shortal, with vocal lines and lyrics added later by Kenny-Smith.
The Murlocs opened with “Francesca,” an upbeat garage rock number built around a driving bass line and a catchy harmonica riff that showcased all of Kenny-Smith’s musical talent: he played rhythm guitar and harmonica simultaneously, and provided energetic singing with a strong, high-pitched voice. The crowd was moving from the very beginning, dutifully making sure a floating balloon never hit the ground (that is, until somebody popped it and the crowd let out an audible groan of disappointment).
From there the set alternated between two styles of songs. In the first, the band played a number of soulful ballads, featuring jangly guitars and Kenny-Smith’s melodic vocal writing. A few personal favorites from these songs include “Paranoid Joy” (almost reminiscent of an oldie girl group song), “Comfort Zone” (a Western ballad with a great country guitar solo), and “Compos Mentis.”
For the second style, the group unleashed energetic jams. “Living Under a Rock,” the second song of the set, set the tone with its octave guitar riff and Kenny-Smith’s dancing. “Wickr Man” opened slowly with spoken vocals, but gradually built its tempo and volume until it reached a psychedelic freakout and the crowd began to mosh. “Bowlegged Beautiful” was built around an infectiously catchy 4+2 beat bass riff, which the band built into an extended introductory jam compared to the album version. And “Wolf Creep” brought punk-influenced energy that led to a large section of the crowd moshing, only broken when Kenny-Smith hopped off the stage to join the crowd.
If there is one criticism to make, the Murlocs perhaps use too intense effects on the vocals. As a friend of mine noted, it sometimes made the lyrics difficult to understand and added distance between the band and the crowd. And even though vocal delay and distortion is a staple of psychedelic music, it perhaps overshadows Kenny-Smith’s incredible vocals. That said, the Murlocs’ live show improves upon their already standout albums, adding energy to their brilliant songwriting and penchant for melodic vocals and riffs.