Words by: Jim Welte
The Duke Spirit:: 07.23.08 :: Bottom of the Hill :: San Francisco, CA
It was a gray, chilly weeknight in San Francisco, but inside the Bottom of the Hill rock club, The Duke Spirit cooked up a panacea for the doldrums outside, and it came in the form of a swift sonic kick to the sternum.
The U.K. alt-rock group, fronted by dazzling singer Liela Moss, zoomed through a superb 45-minute set, serving up a perfect blend of fuzzy guitars, bouncy hooks and sharp lyrics. In the midst of a lengthy U.S. tour in support of its sophomore album, Neptune, the band proved worthy of the indie buzz that has surrounded them.
Moss is one of the most electrifying female rock singers to emerge in recent years, looking like Nico but sounding like Grace Slick with more range. Sporting a stylish black dress that fit well with her sexy-yet-gritty persona, Moss commanded the stage from the outset. She complained of a sore throat early on, but her ills only seemed to add more bite to her growl.
The band's ferocious psychedelia-tinged garage rock delivered a rush straight away with the opener, "Send a Little Love Token," swirling from hazy guitar explorations to perfectly timed melodic returns. The moment the My Bloody Valentine-esque, guitar-soaked haze enveloped your skull, Olly Betts' ferocious drumming blasted you back into a headnod-inducing hook.
Guitarists Luke Ford and Dan Higgins rode that line all night, segueing between dirge and drama with ease. This was an incredibly tight, remarkably efficient set, with nary a moment that wasn't thrilling.
But, like many great rock bands before them, The Duke Spirit is no democracy of attraction. Moss' shrieks and wails sent a charge through the building on every song. She also made sure that her instrumental contributions during jams were more than just busy work. On the heart pounding "The Step and the Walk," Moss slammed a tambourine to round out Betts' beat during guitar bursts. Most impressively, Moss added bluesy harmonica flourishes to several tracks, particularly the dirge-driven "Ship Was Built to Last."
With such a taut, explosive sound, it'd be easy to overlook the lyrics, but those are perhaps the band's most compelling facet. Moss seems to direct most of her lyrics at lovers, both prospective and spurned, and she speaks to both parties with equal aplomb. On "Neptune's Call," she crooned, "I tasted the salt on you/ now I have a tongue tattoo," while the less amorous "Wooden Heart," one of the night's few ballads, featured the line, "I would understand your heart/ if I could feel it."
Rarely has a kick to the sternum felt so good.
Check out JamBase's exclusive feature/interview with The Duke Spirit here.
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