"Sexy Black Sabbath." Even though their song writing and swagger has more to do with Velvet Underground, that's for the recorded tracks. Live and in charge, The Duke Spirit fill the air with six-stringed thunder, full of the kind of crashing drums and murderous crescendos that make Ozzy weep. This feeling came over me during "This Ship Was Built To Last," a semi-heavy song on the CD, but becomes a modern-day "Kashmir" when freed of horns and my crappy headphones. After five weeks, this American tour came to a close Saturday night in West Hollywood's Troubadour, and while the Duke Spirit show little sign of slowing, it is worth noting that they left me a tiny bit less-than-overwhelmed.
I don't want to write "underwhelmed," because that feels like an overly negative statement to describe a band so tight and so full with so many cool songs. Every single track off of Neptune was represented and if you loved the album as I did, then this represents good news. Obviously and understandably, the band feels confident with their new material and I can't argue against it. They deserve the accolades, should get tons of word of mouth, and their live show is far from a letdown. But the under side of whelming comes when you consider that only two songs, "The Step and the Walk" and "Dog Roses," officially joining the ranks of songs I didn't love on the record, but love live, were really honest-to-God better than on the album cuts.
Again, that's not to say that the other songs were badly played, far from it. It's just that the others felt exactly like the album tracks, which is to say they felt just as good as the album tracks. After a while, I stopped paying attention to the time because the math was already figured out; if I wanted to know how long they played, I'd just count it up on my iTunes playlist. It might be the failing of great song writing (if one can call that a failing). Write good songs, go to the trouble of creating natural endings, and you effectively create a weird dead end. But then again, how else is "Lassoo" really supposed to end if not with that cathartic blast? Am I supposed to expect better live bridges than "Wooden Heart" already possesses?
But that's as negative as it got, and that's probably more my own problem than the band's. Mostly I was won over by a group exuding confidence. Preceded by the capable Oohlas, the Duke Spirit exuded effortless cool. While I'm sure it's completely unprofessional of me to compare the opening and headlining bands, it cannot be helped in this case (both bands are led by bleach-blond women, for crying out loud). Even before the Spirit took the stage, you could feel the Oohlas trying, and it came off as desperate. Musically they were very enjoyable, but even while my toe tapped I felt something missing. When the Spirit took the stage, I was reminded exactly what that missing ingredient was, as lead singer Liela Moss hung her arm around the microphone. No lame attempts at across-the-stage patter, no "jokes" about handjobs (a bit I still can't deduce why it would be considered funny outside of using the word "handjob"). The Duke Spirit did nothing to separate the crowd from their casual intimacy.
Moss is of the come-hither variety of lead singers. Some singers work a crowd into a frenzy, acting more like a band conductor for human beings. While I'm sure she could do this drum-major routine when necessary, a small venue such as the Troubadour demanded Moss remain that approachably-scary variety of lead, sometimes resembling Kristin Chenoweth's kick ass cousin. She's cute but mature, intimidating yet capable of pulling off more successful "Ooooh's" than a Motown reunion. Standing at the mic on her tiptoes, she less sets a mood than tells you how it is.
This may be the end of their tour, but it surely will not be our last chance to see Duke Spirit. I feel almost guilty reviewing a band at the end of their tour, as I can only recommend you to keep your eyes out in the years to come for their return. Or encourage you to visit London. In the meantime, grab the CD's and watch the videos. If you like those, you'll like their live show.
01. "I Do Believe" (on tape)
02. "Send a Little Love Token"
04. "Dog Roses"
06. "Into The Fold"
07. "The Step And The Walk"
08. "My Sunken Treasure"
09. "Hello To The Floor"
10. "This Ship Was Built To Last"
11. "Red Weather"
12. "Neptune's Call"
13. "Wooden Heart"
14. "You Really Wake Up The Love In Me"
15. "Cuts Across the Land"