On stage, King Tuff cuts a striking figure – flowing mane of black hair, full beard, hulking physique. He almost looks like some kind of stoner lion, an impression abetted by the first verse he sang at SXSW's Hype Hotel yesterday (March 19): "Pleased to meet ya, I'm gonna eat ya."

That kind of playfulness runs rampant throughout the music of King Tuff. A virtuoso guitar player who only shows off his chops in brief, calculated flashes, he prefers to stick to piling on big, booming riffs that bludgeon and pound. Where many of his contemporaries pull their greatest influence from the revved-up template of '60s garage, Tuff's chief inspirations are from a few decades later. Much of his set scanned as a determined sullying-up of '80s rock tropes, taking the cockiness and grandstanding of arena anthems and smothering them in ample layers of grime. More than anything, the songs felt like some kind of vampiric Van Halen, but replacing attitude with calculated indifference.

That was most apparent in "Black Moon Spell," a song with a big, strutting riff and booming, howled arena rock chorus. On "Headbanger" – its title another nod to hard rock – the band hammered away on a taut, punky progression while Tuff sneered and preened over top. His voice is one of the group's secret weapons – high and pinched, it subverts the music's inherent machisimo, making for the kind of glitter-and-grime formula that defined glam bands like the Sweet and T. Rex. Even when the songs were aggravated and revved up, his voice dripped over the top like spilled honey, thick and sweet and oozing.

The whole thing felt like a biker bar band delivering Motorhead by way of David Bowie.

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