King Velvet Underground, Toronto ON, October 13

KingVelvet Underground, Toronto ON, October 13
Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa
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Together, Anita Bias and sisters Amber and Paris Strother comprise King, a future-forward yet throwback R&B trio that should be getting a lot more attention. After garnering notice for three-track EP The Story in 2011 — and getting co-signed by the Roots' Questlove and even Prince at the time — this year's self-titled debut was an ambitious and underrated 12-track offering of streamlined, inventive, electro-driven R&B.
 
King operate in luxurious synth tones and tempos. The Los Angeles-based outfit harkens back to the electro-R&B/soul of the early to mid-80s, which gives them a "Nights Over Egypt" midtempo soul vibe a la the Jones Girls and/or pretty much anything the late Kashif produced or composed during that era (see: Evelyn Champagne King's "I'm in Love"). The group function as a tight unit, with producer Paris Strother on keys/drum machine and Bias and Amber Strother handling the vocal duties.
 
There was a well-defined feeling of permanence: a bit of soul, a dab of jazz, layered in tight harmonies and introspective, empowering lyrics, But as much as the crowd was feeling them, the trio's 60-minute set was up and down, sublime in spots but feeling a smidge off-kilter in others. At a few points, their normally pitch-perfect Bias/Strother harmonies felt out of sync, albeit ever so fleetingly. Chalk it up to nerves, maybe, but when they were on, they were on — the 16-bit video game-inspired "The Greatest" was just excellent, and "The Story" unfolded perfectly. High points included versions of "Love Song," "Red Eye" and "Supernatural."
 
Their cover of the oft-sampled, oft-recalled "Computer Love" by Zapp didn't quite stick the landing, likely owing to the fact that it was reworked and didn't sound familiar until the lyrics hit. It was all good though, as the positive R&B energy exuded was palpable. As a live act, King operate with a soulful specificity and genre multidimensionality; they have recontextualized and harnessed an '80s electro-soul sound to pay homage to a past era while feeling fresh and present at the same time.