09 December 2007

So I just saw Duke Special

Well, last Wednesday - live, at the re-done Oxford Carling Academy (neé Zodiac).

If nothing else the man can put on a show. Yes, my immediate thoughts are unfortunately negative - the set composition was less than stellar in order, rather than content - but I came away most pleased by a great showman's performance.

True, if he had not played This Could be My Last Day as his second (and final) encore the evening would not have ended on quite the high it did - that song is a favourite for many reasons, not least because I should, and keep failing to, take the title as a motto to live by - but it was still a stellar gig. This should make me happy (and mostly it does), though it has this tendency to just leave me thinking "damn, I should go to more gigs."

The support act started just as we got there; their first song started promisingly - not blow you away, or even "want to see live" promisingly, but nice for a late night and a good whisky promisingly - but they quickly descended into pathetic comedy. They had a shortage of lyrics, and their front woman was clueless; combine this with the absurdity of a folk-y act wearing head torches a la whichever of The Orb or Orbital it was who popularised that mid-90s and I had a damn fine chuckle.

When the main act arrived the start of the set was lacklustre - I forget the first number, but the second was a nothing song based entirely on audience participation. I'm not a fan of AP in gigs as a whole - I go to gigs to be entertained by those performing, not the drunken cretins (myself included) in the audience - but it can work. Generally though I consider it important that if a performer is going to use AP then 1) the song should be a well-known to the audience and 2) there should be more to it than that. This qualified on neither count (at least as far as I was concerned).

However from the end of that ill-fated second number onward the performance was immense; the two others involved, aside from Duke Special himself, were a talented trumpeter/vocalist and a thoroughly eccentric, and wonderful, percussionist. All three were striking stage presences and more importantly had a real, observable chemistry between them up on stage - not least where (and whilst I found this absurd at the time, it is ten times more so in recounting and retrospect) the whole audience was entertained by the ringing of a bell or the striking or not of a cymbal whilst the two other protagonists encouraged expectation amongst the assembled. They played all but three or four songs from the album (Songs from the Deep Forest) , as well as a number of other tunes including some Kurt Weill covers - though not, unfortunately, Mack the Knife, which would have fit in nicely, in a set that massively overran the (absurd) stated curfew time and never again dipped below brilliant - even when the percussionist conspired to fall off the stage!

Engaging, charismatic and musically very sound indeed Duke Special will be worth return visits if his star keeps rising.

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