photos by Irfan Khalil
Ah, the Duke Spirit returned to Washington on Tuesday night to a surprisingly-crowded and very enthusiastic audience. It was a late show, with Eagles of Death Metal headlining, leaving a long line snaking up 9th Street past the plumbing supply store. The biting wind and frigid temperatures drove me to Duffy’s, where I relaxed for a bit. At 9:55, the line hadn’t moved, but instead had grown still further. No way, no how. Especially not when Blue Things beckoned downstairs.
Sitting at the BackBar, I drank slowly, watching enraptured as a series of strange tableaux opened up before me. The bartenders – one seemed to be playfully flirting, while the other seemed charmingly oblivious – kept up a banter that kept me from feeling totally alone. Behind me, a man with a long mustache was talking to a beautiful, surprisingly upright woman in a sort of ornate corset-type top. I couldn’t figure out what was going on – was he a mesmerist bringing back her dead lover – and probably never will. Meanwhile, the overheard conversation from other customers were alternately grating – “my friend wants something very easy to drink, what would you recommend?” Um, water? – and bizarre – “I just don’t know why your mother wants us to spend so much time with her cat!” I asked one of the nice door people what time the band was going on (1030), paid my tab and hurried upstairs.
Still no movement on the line. What the hell? Finally, the line moved, and like all crowds slowly walking forward, swayed towards the doors. Dishearteningly, the tell-tale sounds of the first notes – “Send a Little Love Token,” I think – wafted out into the night while more than half the crowd was still filing through the front doors. I pushed my way inside, and up front, in time to catch the end of the first song. Bloody late shows at the 930 Club.
Now, to the show. What can I say (that I haven’t already)? They were magnificent. Leila Moss, lead singer and aspiring cab-driver extraordinaire looked luminously gorgeous and about ten years younger than normal. The new, ultra-chic, short and intensely blond bob looked wonderful on her head, and her clothes were fare more stylish than I remembered from their first DC show at the Black Cat. The whole band were clothed in black button-downs, giving them a very militaristic and unified look.
Their intense focus on new songs was another shock – as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, they have an enormous back catalog of gorgeous songs, and play infrequently enough to be able to play anything. Still, perhaps their inclusion in television NBA promos and Gossip Girls has convinced them they should keep it focused on their latest release, Neptune. I don’t know. I do know that they sounded very, very good. Obviously, they benefit enormously from smaller, more intimate spaces than that afforded by the giant cavern of the 930. Still, Leila’s outsized personality and the size of their music made it work.
“Lassoo,” from the Ex-Voto EP, followed, and the epic hooks of that song made the audience press forward in a surge. I was looking around surprised – surely everyone was here for the headliner? – but they certainly seemed fully engaged in the proceedings. A rocked-out version of “Dog Roses” followed, with “The Step and the Walk” close behind. The crowd banter was nice – someone yelled, “I LOVE YOU,” eliciting a completely sincere reply from Leila: “I am totally in love with you too.” Nice touch. “Into the Fold was flat – it’s borderline filler on the album, too – but they redeemed themselves with an elegantly wasted “Hello to the Floor” from the first LP, complete with a beautifully played harmonica solo.
“You Really Wake up the Love in Me,” was followed by a cracking “This Ship Was Built to Last” – one of my favorite songs from Neptune, but the energy was only just starting to rise. Oldie, but goodie “Red Weather,” followed, with the excellent “Love Is an Unfamiliar Name” shifting the proceedings to the appropriately high gear. Not to get into the Justice debate, but they definitely looped the “ooh ooh”s and “so good of you”s at the end of the song – does that make it less authentic? Not to me.
Nothing yet, had prepared me for the perfection of their finale. “Lion Rip,” from Cuts Across this Land sounded incredibly lethal, with the incessant drums and squalls of violent guitar drawing an epic vocal performance from Leila. Bloody marvelous.
I stayed around for a while waiting for EODM, but frankly, my heart was full. All that was left was to leave and alight my head happily on my pillow. I didn’t even notice the cold. I was filled with the Spirit.