Right, time to catch up on a couple of gigs from last week.
The Duke Spirit - The Portland Arms, Cambridge
That's right, Cambridge. 45 minutes out of King's Cross lies one of London's quainter suburbs and for this evening at least, home to The Duke Spirit playing to no more than 150 in the back room of the Portland Arms. A tad fewer then than at their Astoria headline show we thinks.
Taking time out from recording the new album the Spirit have headed off on the inaugural Pub NME tour and what a great idea it is. Get up close and personal with a band that have long since elevated themselves from the sweaty climbes of pub shows. And catch some surprise support acts such as Eel Pie Island's psychadelic shout-a-long misfits The Mystery Jets who somehow mange to cram five contrasting visual styles, including your dad (no, really, frontman and lid basher Blaine Harrison's dad plays guitar), a percussion thing that's held together by gaffer tape and saucepan lids that is beaten senseless throughout and some instruments that may have been retreived from the river. It all looks very very wrong but if you drop the po-faced this isn't how it's meant to be done attitude then there are riches in store for you.
They play their prog-pop psychadelia with a gusto that happy slaps a stupid grin across your face and keeps you bopping for all you're worth. Blaine keeps up the merry banter: asking if anyone's seen Syd Barrett (and if he was anywhere in Cambridge this night it would be here) and looking for a transvestite drummer to assist them. They settle for a normal drummer, the audience somewhat lacking in tub thumping tvs. Chaotic, fun and most importantly fun, we'll be looking out for these guys next time they're in town.
With their dark, driving, fuzzy, pounding rock The Duke Spirit on record could be accused of maybe not being that much fun live. Of course you'd be very wrong. Smiles all round then as Leila Morse struts and shakes her way through Cuts Across The Land, somwhere between PJ Harvey, Nina from The Cardigans and Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. This is a chance to kick back, have some fun and make some new friends and the tiny audience respond by bouncing up and down and getting down and dirty to Lion Rip and Love Is An Unfamliar Name. Of the new tunes Dog Roses is the superior stand out, a military drum roll underpinning a growling melodic guitar line. It is as they say round these parts, a hit.
The band are giving it all they're worth with full marks to Toby Butler for managing to break a stupid number of bass strings throughout. But it's all eyes on Leila throughout. An intensely charismatic presence on stage, tonight she's all smiles and the occasional coy thank you at the rousing reception. And yet when she's standing there hands on hips there's pretty much nowhere else you want to be looking. Or indeed can look. But the question of whether or not she's carrying the band is answered by the obvious warmth between them all. This is still a band not a solo act.
With The Duke Spirit off the road for a while and as we wait for the new material to appear we'll just have to keep ourselves content with warm memories of some of the finest rock shows we've seen this year.
Mudhoney - Koko
Very much a game of two halves at Koko last Friday. If you read the proper papers you're no doubt well aware of the All Tomorrows Parties Don't Look Back season. Favoured bands get to play a classic album in entirety and tonight Mudhoney are going to crash through the semi-seminal SuperFuzz BigMuff. Which means first off is the rocket fuelled pre-grunge anthem, Touch Me I'm Sick, after which mainman Mark Arm knowingly jokes: that's it, you can all go home now. The next fourty odd minutes are a riot of post hardcore fury, Sabbath stoner riffs and big rock melodies, albeit oft hidden by the other two. Arm and fellow six string slinger Steve Turner still look great after all these years and Arm's voice is an undeminished banshee howl of astonishing ferocity. Everyone looks happy to be digging up the dirt and although there's none of the crashing bodies of old days (other than those flying out of the mosh pit) it's still a powerful performance.
A short break and the band return to play a few of their later singles. If you've been following Mudhoney's fortunes closely you'll know the songs but we haven't and we don't. Nor do our gig going buddies but we may be in a minority though. None really have that primal ferocity of the earlier work although the performance remains empassioned. Still, for those of us for whom this was the first dipping into the pot the ringing in the ears of that great guitar pedal keeps the legend alive; and with a new album back at Sub Pop in the blocks there's still plenty of life in the old dogs yet.