Attending an acoustic show on a Sunday evening sounds like a great idea, no matter who is playing, but when it turns out to be as one of the funniest events ever, it is definitely something we are glad we have not missed out. KING DUDE, aka Thomas Jefferson Cowgill, hails from Seattle and had a live show at Louhisali, at the cultural center in Espoo, on May 14th, 2023, along with his mate, Gary Gonzales, on percussion and backing vocals. It was coincidentally Mother’s Day, and we are specifically pointing this out for a reason, since it was the first topic of conversation between the musicians on stage and the audience.
It is unbelievable how powerful the combination of acoustic guitar, vocals, and tambourine can be when it comes to telling a story from an intimate yet universal perspective: it totally felt like having an evening in a friend’s backyard – everyone was sipping a beer (a bottle of Jim Beam was “coincidentally” on stage and TJ took a sip right after every song he played), and the atmosphere was so relaxed we completely forgot it was a concert. He greeted the audience by saying “Happy Mother’s Day”; some of us were sitting at the small tables right in front of the stage, but the whole room was packed, as many people were sitting on the armchairs. After the opening tune, “My Beloved Ghost,” the two on stage noted that the lights were a bit too bright, so TJ said, “look deep into my pores,” and then the first laughs occurred; such an easy-going attitude from the audience might be unusual in a Nordic country, but we can assure you, beyond any superficial stereotype, that it was warmly welcomed from the very beginning. Apocalyptic scenes followed in succession on the screen used as a backdrop, and added a further level of pathos, in contrast with the above-mentioned easy-going vibe; it felt like something in between an improvised stand-up comedy and a neofolk-blues concert. Weird, in a good way.
TJ was tuning his guitar and a lady from the audience said that she was giving up a Mother’s Day celebration with her kids to be at the concert instead, and he replied, “that is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” and then a short, funny conversation between them happened, and everything felt so spontaneous there was absolutely no boundary between us and the two on stage. She was there and that was heartwarming, he said, maybe it was because of the whiskey, but she replied that it can be both; he eventually opened the bottle of Jim Beam and took a sip.
A guitar string broke already while TJ was playing the second song on the setlist, “Deal with the Devil,” at the end of which he asked his mate to entertain us while changing the string. Gary clearly said that they were excited but sad at the same time, “happy to be here but ready to go home,” since they have been on tour for a while (tour dates in Europe that have been planned back in 2020), so they expressed their gratitude while also mentioning the need to go back to their families – sweet! It took a while for TJ to be ready with the brand-new guitar string because new strings are hard to keep in tune, but the whole situation was relaxed and fun, so it did not bother us at all, indeed.
People started singing along to “Jesus in the Courtyard,” followed by a big applause, to which TJ replied “best audience ever, Helsinki,” and at that point someone from the crowd shouted: “hey, this is Espoo!” then of course a series of jokes based on that misunderstanding took over, plus a few references to whiskey as “the Devil’s juice” and about that internet joke that says Finland does not exist. The whole thing was right in line with the basics of Finnish humor, so you can easily imagine what the atmosphere was like…
Guitar-tuning related issues went on throughout the whole show, but TJ and Gary made the best use of them by entertaining us: they literally did not miss a single chance to interact with us, as they thanked the sound tech, the tour manager, the merch guy, and everyone who made the event possible, and the audience as well for the presence and the patience. At some point they mentioned the song “Lucifer’s the Light of the World” and a woman in the audience started humming it; TJ stated that he wasn’t needed to sing the song, and that now everyone in the audience should exchange emails and keep in touch with each other. Weird, again, in a funny way. Of course, that song ended up being the next one in line, even though it was supposed to be played a bit later, according to the setlist. The song structure itself is made for a call-and-response, so it was not a surprise that the whole audience was singing.
Most of the tunes in the setlist did have a very sad vibe, infused with occultism and an excellent personal touch in terms of performance, where funny interludes did really make the show a night to remember. TJ dedicated the song called “The Hottest Girl on Earth” to the mother of his child: again, sweet beyond limits, and his trembling voice said it all.
“Silver Crucifix” was one of the highlights in the setlist, as it sounded even more stripped down, intimate, and emotional than the standard version. At that point, Gary left the stage for a while, though there were still a bunch of songs left to play. TJ said that he was about to fly to Singapore at midnight: “HEL, to SIN, to home,” and yes, we laughed at that joke too, after which he talked about this show as his last one, at least for a long time, as having a daughter re-arranged his priorities; understandable, and at this point we cannot feel more lucky that we had the chance to witness such a unique event. He thanked us again, “the people of Espoo and Helsinki combined,” and started playing “River of Gold,” followed by “Born in Blood.”
When the concert was coming to an end, he mentioned Albin Julius as the friend he wrote “Black Riders on the Storm” with; he died recently, and his death was quite a shock but, as TJ pointed out, he has been living his whole life on the edge of everything, so no surprises. The way he shared his thoughts with us was touching. He took off his guitar and sat at the keyboards to play his “fake last song,” as he said, which was “Lay Waste to the Human Race.” Pretty intense, even if he was continuously joking about his poor skills as a pianist. The introduction to the song was a short speech about the pandemic as a good thing: “I’m a die-hard optimist, it’s good when a lot of people die, at least now we are aware of our own mortality.” Well, he had a point, we do agree…
After performing the song, he took the bottle and was leaving the stage: “If you clap, I won’t come back.” There was a moment of total silence, then he came back and said, “since you did not clap, you’re going to have one more song.” We were understandably happy about it, even though it was not a surprise. TJ expressed how he hated encores, as they are totally fake, then someone from the audience said out loud that encores are like peekaboo for adults: he was right!
Gary came back to the stage and they played “The Devil’s Plaything” by American band BACKWORLD, and they had to stop and start again as Gary did not have internet access in order to check out the lyrics – quite a hilarious moment, offering an interesting contrast to the unquestionable soothing solemnity of the tune. “My Rose by the Sea (Satyr Boy)” was chosen as the closing tune for this long, funny, entertaining, and quite unique show we really enjoyed. After that, they blew us kisses and thanked us… cute! We had the chance to thank them back at the merch table. It was definitely a one-of-a-kind live concert, and we are sure it will remain impressed in our mind for good.
Written by Licia Mapelli
Photos by Mirko Luparelli
- My Beloved Ghost
- Deal with the Devil
- Jesus in the Courtyard
- Forty Fives say six six six
- Ladybird, Ladybird
- Oh Faith
- Lucifer’s the Light of the World
- Desolate Hour
- Witch’s Hammer
- The Hottest Girl on Earth
- Silver Crucifix
- Spiders in her Hair
- River of Gold
- Born in Blood
- Black Rider on the Storm
- Lay Waste to the Human Race
- The Devil’s Plaything
- My Rose by the Sea (Satyr Boy)