The Merriweather Post Pavilion venue, in a word, rules. Being an easy sell, I had the chance to go there one year when a friend baited me with a free Incubus ticket. Why, upon arrival, I felt it necessary to keep bringing up Camp Anawanna from Salute Your Shorts (Blake Sennett, anyone?), I’ll never figure out, but I totally get what there is to understand about the wooded, campground-inspired venue. Anyway, about the show, despite pretentious criticisms, Incubus definitely works for their supper. The show was refreshingly rock n’ roll, but what amplified the experience tenfold was the opening lead in by London’s finest, The Duke Spirit.
The Duke Spirit, quite simply, doesn’t want you to forget the blues revival of the 1960s or the first phase of “no wave.” Fronting the band, the identifiably art-rock Liela Moss plays up the Nico and Kim Gordon optic with striking authenticity. She is blond, blessed with severe cheekbones and affects a hip air of indifference. My recollections of her stage presence that evening aren’t entirely lucid; but what I do remember is clever crowd banter, mirror mannerisms of Karen O, screaming blond hair chopping up the night air and continuing riot grrrl antics. Loved it! As for her boys in the back, they were fittingly less animated, taking notes from their subtle but effective male predecessors in Blondie and Jefferson Airplane.
“The Step and the Walk,” off 2008’s Neptune , will be what takes The Duke Spirit out of latent periphery. It is unapologetic, ice cool, and 60s swagger at its absolute best. But their 2005 juggernaut, Cuts Across the Land, will be the emotional slut who lures you into indiscretion and forces long, unwavering commitment.
“Love is an Unfamiliar Name” is an insanely propulsive cut, combining the structural hue of the Rolling Stones with the enduring charisma of a self-assured feminist. A point of highlight about the aforementioned track and the rest of the album is that it sounds as modern as it does vintage. This may seem limiting, in the vintage sense, seeing that its premise has been recycled about a million times. But surprisingly, it speaks volumes about the band’s vision. My only worry comes when (and if) they decide to change direction.
Another soaring moment on Cuts Across the Land is “Win Your Love.” I hesitate to lasso The Kills and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs into focus here because those are the obvious contemporary references when you have thrashing, bluesy female leads. It certainly is there, but more profoundly, and so are the cornerstones of cool PJ Harvey and The Velvet Underground.
Do yourself a favor and pick up Cuts Across the Land. The Duke Spirit, God love them.