20 May 2005, Manchester Academy 3
My second ticket for The Duke Spirit this year, and I managed to make it this time. I've been buying their singles and their album is out this week. How did they get my attention? To be honest, as soon as I saw their cover art (see below), which is adapted from old woodcuts. At first, you think they've simply copied 18th Century originals, but then you notice weird little details which really aren't right. No, this has nothing to do with their actual appearance, or their music, but any band branding their records like that has to be ploughing their own furrow. And indeed they are.
First I enjoyed the second support act, The Archie Bronson Outfit. Beards! I know, I should talk about the music, but you go and see them yourself, you'll be mesmerised by that beard. And the bassist... bassists often have a stoner-like demeanour but this one gently swayed back and forth, staring out at the audience but seemingly looking at something far, far beyond. Er anyway, Archie and the band play a decent urgent brand of rock, with distinctive touches of sea shanty, Celticness and warrior cry. Yes, Swords of a Thousand Men jumped into my head at one point, and not in a bad way.
And The Duke Spirit have now jumped right up my list of bands I'd make a lot of effort to see again. Not because of any surprises or any shocking impact. Simply because the delicious music I've heard on disk does indeed make a superb transition into live performance.
At the Academy and I assume throughout this tour, they were using a couple of extra musicians, a keyboardist and a sax player. But this is very much a guitar band, in fact the three guitarists are totally focussed on their instruments, one or two of them only beginning to glance up at the crowd towards the end. I suspect they feel they've left communication duties to Liela Moss. And she is very very good, a superb interpreter of the songs, physically expressive (as far as you can be on a small crowded stage) and of strong rangey voice.
They must have played everything off the new album, offhand I can only think of one other song I'd have liked to hear. The recent singles got a good reaction, especially Lion Rip. They're all good by the way, perhaps Love Is An Unfamiliar Name comes closest to being chart material. Incidentally, I've read a reference to the 'Second Wave of Britpop' - which makes me cringe on several levels - including this lot. Huh? I can't speak for anyone else, but seems to me they're definitely doing their own thing, not 'Britpop' whatever that is.
The 'Special Edition' of Cuts Across The Land (right) is worth finding by the way, it includes an extra disk of material, from studio sessions etc. As to the main album, it's full of strong tracks. Apart from the singles, I really like, and liked hearing tonight, Hello To The Floor, Fades The Sun, and Lovetones. The songs range from the gently melancholic Bottom Of The Sea - which stood out really well live, with its lilting South Seas flavour - to the frenetic rocking Stubborn Stitches. The lyrics are intelligent and intriguing, the guitar work is layered and lush, and punctuated by well placed feedback. I do want more melody sometimes. What happens is that they do some magnificent workout on a musical theme, but there isn't always the melody to take it somewhere. They just stop. But I don't think this is really a criticism, just a perception that they're often on the verge of something awesome. Hello To The Floor does that to me, it has some tasty moments of grand shimmering guitar, varied musical texture, even bits of harmonica blues.
they only create music they like. I doubt they're actually that coccooned,
but I'm very glad they're dedicated to the special character of what
They may just be my new favourite band.