For a songwriter as simple and direct as Naseem Khuri, the band he's built around himself is surprisingly multi-faceted. Keyboardist Chris Barrett switches off on trumpet. Violinist Jenée Morgan also doubles on saxophone. Hell, drummer Travis Richter could even come out from behind the kit and kill on guitar. "We are loaded instrumentally," chirps Khuri from Washington DC, which he has called home since moving away from Boston in 2009, just a year after forming Kingsley Flood with bassist Nick Balkin. "We could do something like Tesla's Five Man Acoustical Jam!"
Perish the thought, but the Westwood native admits that the rogue sextet that he keeps moving between Boston and DC is the secret weapon that brings his songs to life. It's a band that can't help but show off as they come together on their second full-length, Battles, which they unveil this Saturday at Brighton Music Hall. When you also include a go-to man like veteran guitarist George Hall (Weisstronauts, Seks Bomba), it's not audacious to compare the seeds of Kingsley Flood to the virtuoso folk and rock-and-roll seeds that grew a band like Wilco.
Balkin and Barrett were sharing an apartment and working as space-pop band Logan 5 and the Runners, when Kuri started to write songs. "I remember thinking that a lot of people are going to like these; there is so much you could do with them," Balkin recalls. "But I don't think that he's thinking that he wants them to be really popular."
Whether Khuri wants his songs to be popular depends on your definition of popularity. The traditions he draws from reward imitation. On album-opener "This Will Not Be Easy," Khuri's world-weary voice croaks with a no-depression resignation that suits both hero Joe Strummer (in his later years) and Josh Ritter (whose keyboardist Sam Kassirer produced the record). As his finger-picked guitar slams into the garage stomp of "Pick Your Battles," the band's full spectrum is revealed. Khuri delivers the pitch and Kingsley Flood knock it out. It's not complicated, but then again, maybe it's not supposed to be.
"If you're playing guitar, bass, and drums in a rock band, you're already a kind of cliché," says Hall, who sees perfection in the way Khuri connects with even the most recalcitrant audiences. Despite what their instrumental variety might suggest, Kingsley Flood manage to keep it aimed at the gut-level. "I'm always fixed on the guy with his arms crossed," says Khuri. "My job it to win that guy over."
Which in Boston, is nearly all of us.
KINGSLEY FLOOD + VELAH + AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER :: Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave, Allston :: February 9 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $13 :: 617.779.0140 or brightonmusichall.com