King of the Torch

Whaddaya gonna do on a Monday night, especially one before a nasty election?

Can’t go to the Fox & Goose; no, not after mildly dissing the open mike there a few weeks back in this space—those angry folksingers might be fixing to kick my ass. There’s karaoke at McGee’s out in the ‘burbs, and Billy Ray Cyrus mullethead line-dance night somewhere in Davis, but who wants to drive?

That leaves the Torch Club.

Yep, the Torch, which moved into the Auditorium Club’s former digs early this year. The new joint, at 904 15th St., is a cut above the previous Torch Club on L St. Its squarish room and small, semicircular stage make it a much better venue for live music than the old Torch, limited as that space was by its narrow confines.

Sure, you’re forced to look at hideous clown paintings on the north wall, along with publicity photos of old pugilists, but the surroundings are so swank they make you want to spark up a Swisher Sweet, or at least a Roi-Tan Banker or White Owl Panatella. Being a club-soda connoisseur, I didn’t chance to taste the house selection of low-budget Kentucky varnish removers, but I suspect they’re as palatable as the next joint’s poisons du noir. Try it with a mixer is my advice.

Let me also advise you to make it to the Torch Club on a Monday night, while the Aaron King Trio is holding court.

After the sparse crowd (meaning less than 10 people) finished watching the Minnesota Green Bay game, which ended in overtime with a wildass pass from Brett Favre that almost got intercepted by Vikes cornerback Cris Dishman, then bounced off him and into the arms of nearly prone Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who stood up and sprinted for the goal—"[You’re] gonna be seein’ that on highlights films for years,” one patron remarked—guitarist King, bassist Joe Lev and drummer Steve Boutté hit the stage.

A little banter between the trio, then King launched into a jazzy instrumental on his Ibanez hollow body. His tone was fat and rounded, but its avoirdupois was tempered by a near-grungy afterburn that had a knife-through-the-speaker edge; his linear melodic runs were punctuated by the occasional speed bump of a jazzy chord. Behind him, Lev fell in with a walking bass line, and Boutté kept time with deft, Art Blakey-style rhythm bombs. The band swung. Hard.

On the second number, while riding Boutté's shuffle beat, King took a few verses on vocals, then ripped into a cascading sequence of solo runs; he’d adjusted his tone accordingly to a piercing wail, which had a feel more suited to blues.

“Let’s have a round of applause for the bartender,” King called out theatrically before the next song. “Moose the Magnificent, the godfather of Tourette’s syndrome.”

Then they launched into “Rock Me Baby,” and you could tell King was in the zone—that spiritual plane where everything falls perfectly into place. Unfortunately, I was in a different zone, one where the head starts sliding toward the table.

I’ll have to go back again. You should, too.