The King of France @ Spaceland, 1/13/06

Azzerad & SaladJaunty and brooding, sometimes within the space of a single song, NYC’s The King of France are all about The Song. Their set at Spaceland Friday opening for Helio Sequence demonstrated a deft handing of the three-minute pop tune. This trio of men–as opposed to kids–have an endearing grad student awkwardness about them that thankfully is without irony and affectation. Along with the (lack of) image, the cryptic, arguably uncool band name probably works in their favor to filter out those in search of the next stylish flavor o’ the moment.

Stripped to just the essentials–guitar, drums, piano–they ran through well-honed set that showed some range of craft. Singer Steve Salad leads the band, plays a mean rhythm guitar and provides requisite between-song banter. He stares straight ahead and stands bolt upright at the mic while singing, but one senses this is a persona device, not a coy nerves thing. Tom Siler holds down the low end at the keys so well you don’t miss the bass guitar. During the band member intros, drummer Michael Azzerad gets maybe a few extra claps from those who know him from his rock journalism. At the kit, he bashes away with abandon (later evidenced by a busted snare). Behind Buddy Holly specs, he looks every bit the writer-turned-rock star.

TKOF’s tunes have a durability, zig-zagging from late 70’s AOR to 80’s wistfulness back to 60’s optimism. Check out “Mexico,” which streams at their site. It opens with a bouncing piano quote of the 80’s 1-hitters JoBoxers’ “Just Got Lucky,” then proceeds to make pop taffy out of it, pulling it this way and that within an inch of its life to satisfying results.

The sparse early Spaceland crowd usually doesn’t draw out the best performances out of openers, but TKOF did well with a half-filled room, even earning the rare opener encore. Thomas Lennon from Reno 911 (in full Officer Dangle mode–‘stache & highlights blazing–no less) certainly dug their set. They might have been a bit stiff, but you sense they’ll loosen up after a few shows on this tour. The musicianship and tunes are there, so naturally one wants them to go for it–open up the dynamics, take the lows lower, the highs higher. But even that is mere quibbling. All in all, a winning rock show for discerning tastes.

The King of France comes back to L.A. on 2/22 with Nada Surf and Rogue Wave at the Fonda.