Elle King at the Roadrunner  

Words: Plum Luard
April 9, 2023

Writing on the commuter rail to Providence in a scrappy notebook I stuck in my boot while dancing after a sprint to Back Bay where pigeons line the rafters and the fluorescents are frightening and the track is found after a ride in an elevator with creaking doors.  Riding backwards.  Wild and whirling trees.  Divelsheved window-paned reflections.  Dizzying. 

“This is like the blondest crowd I’ve ever seen,”  Phoebe Zilliax Blodget, first-time concert goer, mused as we collected our bags from security.  Cowboy hats.  Flared pants.  Flowy florals.  Rhinestone-encrusted belts.  Stacked cups, long emptied but serving as a nice cushion for fresh drinks.  Baseball hats.  The lead singer of the Red Clay Strays is sporting a leather jacket that made him look like, in the words of Zilliax Blodget, a “dressed up Isak from Skam.”  He declares to a screaming audience: “She’s a real person, not a fake person” and then concludes his act with “Wondering Why.”

She keeps on loving me.  And I keep on wondering why. 

It was a fabulous serenade to call Elle to the stage—to the trance she casts, to her exquisite attentiveness to her listeners.  The crowd erupts.  As the stage changes and the lights come up, herds of people flock to the bar, an apt move for an artist with booze-infused discography.  “Stuck in the Middle with You” plays faintly through the speakers.  Everyone begins screaming the chorus.  “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”  “Brown Eyed Girl.”  And some ditch their jackets and bags on the floor to raise their arms and shake their hips unencumbered.  Others stand and stare—the light hitting their features ghostly—succumbing to a bad high, perhaps.  A group of drunk transition music fanatics declare, “they don’t like us singing—that’s all.”

Marbled phone cases.  Pop-sockets.  Slanted selfies.  Lots of leather.  Beanies.  Creative beards.  Mothers and daughters.  Fathers and sons (clad in matching brown flannels).  “Come on, Elle, woooo!”—a piercing cry from an inebriated gentleman in his late 40s/50s.  Green down jacket.  They could be slippers or they could be loafers.  Really small cup as though someone had cut him off—but not all the way.  Black out.  Shrieks.  House-lights.  “Did they hype us up with that blackout for nothing?”  Groans resound.  Black out.  Silence.

Elle emerges.  Black skinny jeans.  Black studded leather jacket; she “met the love of her life in this very fucking coat.”  Orange tinted glasses, a blue bandana which later became a subject of controversy—“do you think this fucking bandana fucking showed up on my head?  I fucking earned this shit.”  She is bearing a coffee cup which we cannot decide is coffee or booze until we spot the label of a tea bag—tea, we conclude.  Screams.  Loud, piercing whistles.  Shrieks.  “You got me feeling pretty damn good,” she booms.  The stage lights up and her bright initials are illuminated behind her—a blinding “EK.”  The letters are lined with exposed light bulbs like those dreamy dressing room mirrors—almost comically excessive light for a single person.  To expound all her beauty.  To radiate it all.  Iridescent and glowing.  “Tulsa” tinkles.  Envy turns to insult. 

Hun, you done me a favor.

Elle told her second grade teacher “who had a terrible haircut,” that she wanted to be a singer, and she laughed.  “Imagine being seven years old and being like ‘fuck this bitch.’”  The letters behind her turn a poisonous green—an air of defiance, of corrosive power.  The crowd begins to scream along with Elle, “I’m a chain smoking, hard drinking woman.”  As the song fades, Elle stands up straight, clutching the mic—“I feel like I need to say something.  A lot of youngin’s come to my show—I like smoking, fucking, and drinking.”  Cheers.  “It’s not about smoking and drinking—it’s about being your fucking self.  It is important to see a woman who looks different.  Who talks differently.  I am wide but I’m not very tall.”  This final cry became a mantra throughout the show.  Cheers, doubly.  And with the speech to the “youngin’s,” the beat for her 2014 blockbuster “Ex’s and Oh’s” erupts—the song that was the anthem for my middle school hand-ball dominated recesses.  That blasted from car radios.  That leaked from bodegas. 

So the hearts keep breaking and the heads just roll. 

As kids, we would scream these lyrics at the top of our lungs with squeaky, prepubescent voices.  As if we knew what it meant for hearts to break or heads to roll.  Or exes to haunt.  Our most tangible connection to the song was the game the title alludes to—or perhaps, as Leslie Jamison notes in “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” it was a song that gave us “scars to try on like costumes.” “I was a voyeur and a vandal,” says Jamison, “flexing the hurt-muscles in my heart by imagining aches myself into aches I’d never felt.”  Years later, with deeper voices and scarred hearts, we hold our hands high and jump defiantly.  And scream till our lungs ache.  And clap till our hands are red and sweltering.  The crowd does not come close to matching our rowdiness—someone snidely remarks that we had elbowed them.  I am just a little bit proud.  “You guys need a little emotional release, maybe,” Elle exclaims as the song fades between sips of her tea.  All that voyeurism stored up and ready to explode.  An errant elbow was just the beginning.

She plays “Good Thing Gone” at the halfway mark. 

Look at this good love we’ve wasted.  Another good thing gone.

The opening “oohs” are a love song to music, to all it does to bring us together, to how fleeting the moment is, to the transcendence of it all.  Never wanted to let you down.  Calling to the audience—we could have tried a bit harder.  Stay with me, hold on, hold onto each other.  Never wanted to let you down.  Bodies bounce with the beat.  Eyes close.  On the studio recording, her voice almost breaks, tears slipping down her vocal cords, a raspier quality than usual.  No tears on stage—another good thing gone.  No, not yet.  Hold on.

King’s performance exudes all the power that bursts from the seams of her latest studio album, “Come Get Your Wife.”  It reeks of sensuality and whiskey and malice.  On the album cover, she flaunts a fleece-lined orange jacket, a black lace top with a hot pink bra peeping through, and strappy green heels.  She stares at her well-manicured left hand and her right hand is poised on her popped hip.  A portrait of a woman not to be messed with—“Come Get Your Wife” collapses into a threatening invitation.  She stands center on “the big ass fucking stage” and exclaims to the crowd, “You can bet your ass I’m crazy.  Born to fight.”

Recorded in Nashville, “Come Get Your Wife” is an ode to her country roots, a genre in which she reigns queen.  “If you have a problem with Kentucky mother fucker, you got a problem with me cuz I’m from Southern Ohio.”  She alludes to the opener of the album, “Ohio.”  I want to go back and I might as well but everytime I leave it hurts like hell.  The triple “o” of the chorus “o-o-o-Ohio” is easily mistaken for “o-o-o-hi” as she swallows the final “o” in the name of her home state.  The song thus transforms into a lyrically genius call of homecoming.  Her chorus meshes into the visceral sound of return.  Elle said in an interview with Apple Music that, “Sometimes, you don’t always know what you want or need that will better your life.  I didn’t know country was going to be my everything and that I was going to find this amazing joy and new, wonderful chapter, all through country.”

A stagehand brings her a guitar as the show begins to wind down and she plays the prickly cords of “Lucky,” the namesake of her son.  The outro on the record features a gaggling baby.  “It’s almost in tune.  These instruments are fucking a hundred years old.  Do you expect me to play well?”

As per custom, before she plays her final song, she goes around to introduce the band.  “I also know I got some bad-ass mother fuckers with me.  I see he’s found himself a little joint.  A little diggy diggy diggy.  What he’s trying to say is he is feeling a little mother fucking funky.  Do y’all like to get funky?  And he’s got the fucking flute.”  She laughs and smiles and screams and hums along as all her band members play their hearts out.  An exquisite tribute to all the forces that power the show.

She ends with “Drunk (and I Don’t Wanna Go Home).”  The opening drumming starts to pulse through the crowd.  It sounds like a rallying cry.  Baby, I’m drunk and I don’t wanna go home.  All bouncing in sync.  All beating together.  Oh, oh I don’t wanna.  A final desperate cry of “oohs” from the crowd—all we had left to give.






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