King Tuff / Ex Hex / Jensen Serf Company @ Crowbar 1/16/15

King Tuff fans packed the Crowbar Friday night for the Black Moon Spell Winter Tour.

St. Pete locals Jensen Serf Company opened up for the two touring acts, Ex Hex and Tuff. The trio, made up of front man, Ben Sayor; guitarist, Peter Kokkinakos; and bassist, Alexander Charos, make some of the most dance-worthy garage rock in the area. And dance they did. It was almost surreal seeing so many people who were obviously used to moshing trying to mosh-dance their way through Jensen Serf Company’s guitar driven tracks.

From behind a drum set at the back of the stage, Ben Sayor was able to maintain an electric connection with the crowd, keeping them engaged in between sets or while the other two members of the band switched instruments. It doesn’t happen often that the musical prowess of the drummer becomes the focal point of a band’s performance, but Sayor’s ability to belt out spot-on vocals while playing intricate drum lines is one of the most impressive parts of seeing Jensen Serf Company play. Above all else, the band was engaging throughout their entire high-energy set. The band closed with a song off their New Kid Shot EP, “Break The News,” in which Sayor repeats, “I don’t really want to be alright.” For me at least, Jensen Serf Company was more than alright — they were easily one of the best live performances I’ve seen out of a local band.

I spoke with Kokkinakos briefly after their set about their sparse live performances over the last year or so. Kokkinakos said the band took last year off to record their first full-length album. The band is planning to release the new album on double-sided vinyl toward the end of this year. Kokkinakos said they brought in a producer from outside the state to work on the album.

After Jensen Serf Company, there was another three-piece, Ex Hex. The all girl garage-pop band out of Washington, D.C. is the newest project of front woman Mary Timony, formerly of Wild Flag and Helium. The band opened with the song “Don’t Wanna Lose,” instantly familiarizing the audience with the bands unique blend of heavier pop rips, sustained chords and melodic vocals of both Timony and bassist/singer Betsy Wright. The extended bridge-walking guitar solos from Timony were also a bit unexpected. It’s just not something you see now a days (except from maybe King Tuff), but Ex Hex pulled it off with finesse. For a band who hadn’t even released their first album before last Fall, the on-stage play between Timony and Wright showed the band has become tight, and not just musically. At one pint the two seemed to be playing a game of dueling guitars, and it was met with vivacious cheers from the audience. The band ended with one of my personal Ex Hex favorites, “Everywhere.”

By the time headliners King Tuff took the stage at midnight, the audience didn’t seem to be losing any steam, clearing out of the beer garden to pack the inside of the venue. King Tuff, as to be expected, played a wild set filled with manufactured fog, cowboy hats, and a myriad of flying PBR cans (mostly coming from the mosh pit). The band played a number of songs off their newest album Black Moon Spell including “Eyes of the Muse” and “Staircase of Diamonds.” For me, it was the obviously intoxicated girl who kept jumping on the stage to do a Coyote Ugly-esque dance for the cameras that really brought the King Tuff experience together. No to mention the “shit monkey” that made a guest appearance during the set.

King Tuff (A.K.A Kyle Thomas) told Zero Warning that the band was shooting film of their set for an upcoming music video, which I’m assuming will be released after the tour. Thomas, who donned a go pro on the end of his guitar throughout the set, said they would be filming for “only like a week.”