26 March 2008, Manchester Academy 3
There are maybe one or two points of criticism in what follows below, but I wouldn't want to give the wrong impression - I really enjoyed this show. The week's been a bit bleurgh, and the weather this evening wasn't inviting; anyone walking around outside was well huddled up.
But the grudgingness vanished once the music started.
The set was very largely a run through of the new album, Neptune - not in the same order, but it did kick off with the album opener, I Do Believe. Which kind of won me over straight away, because it had much more impact in this live setting, showing how well it sets up Send A Little Love Token. Which I like a lot, along with the rest of the album's more rocking numbers. Such as the songs I like the most, Into The Fold and This Ship Was Built To Last, cracking good numbers which I relished and it looked like the band enjoy getting stuck into as well. This is it you see - see a band live, and if they're good, they'll put an interestingly different kick on a song. Here's most of why I'd always want to turn up to a Duke Spirit gig; they're primarily a guitar band, and when all the gears are synchronised it's a very good live sound. As for the album as a whole, it's good but there's a slightly more ordinary feel to the songs than with Cuts Across The Land. Just my impression, that's all, that maybe they're losing some of the quirkier edges - with an eye to the US? I dunno, I might not be being fair, never mind.
Much of the rest of the reason to turn up is Liela Moss. Journalism puts an annoying slant on this, because it tends to drag image into the discussion; fine, but what she offers is just as evident on record, a distinctive smoky bluesy voice which ably explores odder imaginative places with feeling and occasional melodrama.The rest of the band do some backing vocals at a few points, but with all due respect to them, as vocalists they're very good guitarists. Leave it to Liela. Halfway through she announces one song, the only time she really did that I think. It's the standard routine of telling us we're going to get the single; seems a bit anachronistic now, especially when they're not really a pop band. And it's The Step And The Walk which is okay but... may be I should listen to it more carefully.
Third gig of this tour; but it follows eight in the US, and they're going back in April after they've done this stint. Do bands get worn out? As an outsider, I imagine it takes a gig or two to get into the groove; and as the touring winds on, they maybe hit a peak, with a risk of getting stale after that. And perhaps there'll be a great gig at the end when they're demob happy. As long as they don't all hate each other by then. There must be all sorts of accidental things, from one gig to the next. Equipment failing or going astray.Some venues having awkward staff or they're impossible to get the sound right for. And illness - colds, bugs, stomach trouble or worse - must be an occupational hazard. It'll be a miracle if no one at any point eats a bad burger or something like that.
...which all leads me on to wondering about this gig. In some ways I would have expected better. But looking at that tour schedule, one could understand eg. Leila's voice being a little under the cosh. Her singing was actually very good, but she didn't seem to be up for the chatter as I remember her previously. A slight lack of confidence showed in various comments, such as her telling us that it might sound corny to tell us we were special '...but you are'. I know, I might be way off in interpreting it that way . . . this, and other little things, suggested willingness but maybe a little weariness. Some of those other little things were some rubbishness with the sound. Just with some songs, which suggests maybe somebody's guitar wasn't behaving itself. Something like that. Honestly, at one point - can't remember which song - it actually sounded like somebody was badly off key.
The funny thing is, whether they were having trouble with the sound or not, it didn't matter, not with this band and with this gig. What they do is very good live, rich and satisfying. If I had a real grouse it was when I looked at my watch after the encore. They did just under the hour, all told. They've got a lot more in them than that. But with two support bands, they only came on at 9.40, so that had to be it. I really enjoyed the two classics they played, and it was maybe telling that the first ended the main set, and the other, Cuts Across The Land, finished the gig. That first one, was Love Is An Unfamiliar Name; preceded by some excellent little guitar sound fragments, it was a gorgeous thing. I wish I could have lived in the sound of that performance and then taken it away with me. But you can't can you. That's the bizarrely brilliant thing about good live music, how ephemeral it is.
Good luck in the US Duke Spirit. Hope the Americans get what you do.