The Duke Spirit, Boston Arms, London
Tuesday 06 September 2011
What better place to stage a launch for an album called Bruiser than in a boxing ring at Tufnell Park's Boston Arms? This gig marks the delayed release of the London quintet's third full-length offering (out on 18 September), which is being tipped as the one to pack the sucker punch and clip the ears of the mainstream.
Cuts Across the Land (2005) and Neptune (2008) won critical acclaim (fans of Guitar Hero will recognise "Send a Little Love Token" from the second) but the praise was always tempered by "can do better" clauses. Despite heavy tour schedules and word-of-mouth promotion here and across the pond, neither record climbed the charts. Could this be third time lucky?
At first, this showcase event, brimming with industry figures but peppered with diehard fans, appears to be little more than a lukewarm warm-up for forthcoming tours. A naff intro invites the crowd to "get ready to rumble". Liela Moss, frontwoman and former muse to the designer Alexander McQueen, looks the part. She is the obvious focal-point in a band of dour, bearded men, but she keeps her distance – and not in an intriguing way.
Despite the antagonistic promise of its dirty, theatrical riffs (an often-admired aspect of the Spirit) the live effect is tepid on the new single, "Procession". The repetitive "Surrender" gives way to dullness and could do with being a minute shorter, and Moss's firm shake of a maraca on "Don't Wait" looks – disappointingly – as if this is as goading as this gig is going to get.
It turns out that the band are just taking a few rounds to find their fighting spirit. When they do, the effect is heavyweight. Moss is far stronger in the part of the wronged than the wrongdoer. She takes to the keys for a biting rock 'n' roll tangent into Kate Bush-esque enchantment that showcases the clout she has kept under wraps. "Everybody's Under Your Spell" (one of the least interesting songs on the album) becomes a bitter ode that sees Moss shaking the ropes as the bass rises and the riffs climax.
"In French, that's an encore. In English, it's a beverage," Moss says, as they return to the stage after a nonchalant break. They show that The Duke Spirit's sound – honed on this new record by Andrew Scheps – has always had the style. Shame, then, that it only sometimes packs the substance.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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