The Duke Spirit - Barfly, Wednesday 6th July
The crowd at the Barfly are getting a little restless. It's taking support act Architecture In Helsinki far too long to set up the various trombones, trumpets, tubas, guitars, cowbells and varied hittable wooden blocks they use to make their Arcade Fire meets Polyphonic Spree meets primary school orchestra sound. When they do start they're plagued with sound worries and there's a sense that this is nowhere near as good as it could be. Another stage another crowd and we can expect better things from this oddball Aussie group.
But we, the pretty young things at the front, the dubious old men at the side and the punkers in the middle are all here for one band only. There's no two ways about it. The Duke Spirit are one of our favourite London rock bands trashing the stages of this fair nation right now. Fusing Mazzy Star's melancholy with Polly Harvey's fire and the darkness of early BRMC baptised with the sweat from the walls of CBGBs Cuts Across The Land is one of the best rock albums of the year so far.
The Duke Spirit's slow burning blues ignites on stage under the eyes of frontwoman Leila Morse. She holds the stage with mesmerising presence; commanding attention with the charisma and cocksure confidence of the Rock Gods of old (think early Robert Plant or Mick Jagger). She holds the attention of every man in the room, her band included, and after the show Londonist's female friends at the gig admit to a flurry of saphic passions at one point.
The four guys who make up the rest of the band (Luke Ford and Dan Higgins on guitar, Toby Butler on Bass and Olly Letts on drums) provide the crunching backbeat to Leila's fiersome vocal power. At times they seem completely in thrall to her, melting as she bestows the occasional smile or throws her arms around one of them. But at all times they play with a solid determination and energy, all obviously comfortable with their place in the great scheme of things and happy being on stage with a lady who should soon be acknowledged alongside Polly, Karen and Courtney as one of rock's foremost female singers.
With only an album and EP behind them at the moment it's a short set but with tracks like Cuts Across The Land, Love Is An Unfamiliar Name, Red Weather and Win Your Love behind them it's chock full of great tunes. Leila nonchantly tosses her mic stand about and resurrects the tambourine as essential instrument of rock 'n' roll, whilst Luke does his guitar machine gun impression firing jagged chords over the heads of the audience.
Admittedly it's often pretty basic stuff but that's not The Duke Spirit's concern. Leave that for someone else. Rather they'd just play great catchy rock songs at a great show. And that's certainly good enough for us.
There's a little chaos of their own toward the end when the show is suddenlty truncated by the loss of bass but it's quickly fixed and they return to resounding cheers for a couple more tracks before once again Londonist staggers smiling into the night.
The show was recorded live for John kennedy on XFM and should hopefully be appearing here in the near future.