Mike Atkinson

Duke Special – The Social, Nottingham, Monday February 19

Posted in Bodega, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on February 20, 2007

Following a well received support slot with the Divine Comedy last November, the Irish singer-songwriter Duke Special returned for his first headline appearance at a sold-out Social.

Wreathed in raggedy dreadlocks and dark eyeliner, Duke describes himself as a mixture between a soul singer and a vaudeville performer. Sounding at times like a gentler Rufus Wainwright, but shot through with a more pronounced Irish brogue than is apparent on his recorded work, his vocals were pitch-perfect and faultless.

The three piece band – featuring an outstanding clarinet and saxophone player – gave the songs an old-fashioned feel, which evoked the spirit of Kurt Weill. They were at their best on rousing numbers such as Everybody Wants A Little Something and Last Night I Nearly Died, which stirred a respectful but subdued crowd into a massed singalong.

However, there was no escaping a sense of expectations that were not fully delivered. Despite promising playfulness, theatricality and illusion, the bulk of the set was played disappointingly straight, and failed to strike a sufficient rapport between performers and audience.

Just as fatigue was setting in, the band pulled out all the stops. A yearning, soaring Freewheel ensnared our emotions, and an extended, free-form Salvation Tambourine saw Duke balancing precariously atop his battered upright piano.

A terrific encore started with an intimate rendition of Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, complete with fluffed lines and laughter, and ended with the band standing on the bar, performing without amplification, and charming the socks off the whole venue.

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