Inside D.C. entertainment

D.C.'s Naseem Khuri finds 'human contact' with Kingsley Flood

January 6, 2011 - 11:56 AM
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kingsley flood
Naseem Khuri (l) of Kingsley Flood.

Earlier this week, after I made Kingsley Flood's upcoming Rock 'n Roll Hotel show a weekly pick — "When I listen to [Wilco's] Being There, I smell ashtrays, and when I listen to Kingsley Flood I smell spittoons," I wrote — a fan emailed me to say, "Not sure if you've caught them live before, but they put on a whale of a show in person that's very different from that first album. Much more punk-influenced and engaging, in my humblest of opinions."

I have not, in fact, seen Kingsley Flood live, so all I know of this northwest corridor band — frontman Naseem Khuri lives in D.C., the rest of the band in Boston — is what I've heard on Dust Windows. With its plucky, swinging rhythms and weary acoustic ballads, its ever-present fiddle and Khuri's weathered voice, this self-released debut had no choice but to be labeled Americana. But I can hear punk potential in a track like "Cul de Sac" or the conclusion of "A Little Too Old," and YouTube confirms that the band's live show is indeed more raucous.There's a simple explanation for this.

Khuri, 31, of Mount Pleasant, tells me the band's lineup has changed since Dust Windows, which he wrote entirely himself and recorded rather quickly. Kingsley Flood is a more democratic outfit now, allowing other influences to creep in, which is not to imply that Khuri swears only by artists like Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. "I think people in the band got excited because I was into that," he says, "but I was also into The Clash and The Replacements." He prefers to describe the band's music as "rock 'n' roll with a fiddle."

The songs on Dust Windows were written in a small bedroom in Boston's Allston-Brighton neighborhood, while Khuri was studying international relations at Harvard's Kennedy School. He describes the songs as "words that you didn't think would ever escape that bedroom." When grad school ended he took a job at the school, but quickly soured of office life. "I just got sort of disillusioned with everything and felt that I could do more of what I wanted to do through music," says Khuri, who moved here over a year ago. "I felt like I was getting sort of trapped. It's a cliche, I know, but I wanted more one-on-one human contact, and there's nothing quite like that than a crappy dive bar on a Saturday night, playing rock 'n' roll songs. So that's what we're going for right now."

Except that in its short existence, Kingsley Flood is already moving up. The band has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition, and their last gig in D.C. was at the — how to phrase it —  cozy Velvet Lounge. The Rock 'n Roll Hotel is significantly larger, and the band is headlining. "If there's any justice in the music world, they're about to blow up," wrote the fan who emailed me. That could happen, and just might force the band's members to live in the same city rather than, as Khuri puts it, "taking advantage of price wars between AirTran and JetBlue."

And if the band doesn't blow up? Well, there's always the State Department.

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