review by Noah Sanders
photos by Ken Roeder
If you’ve been slacking on checking out the varied yet spectacular roster of musicians fledgling Sub Pop shingle Hardly Art has been signing lately, you are beyond missing out. Mad geniuses Nick Heliotis and Sarah Moody have been busy in the last few years, putting together a stable of bands that manage to run the gamut of musical genres while maintaining a beautiful balance of sounds. With their current track record (Le Loup, Arthur & Yu, The Moondoggies) I’m getting my hands on just about anything they put out. I might not love it all, but I’m assuredly going to at least find it interesting.
Thus, the chance to see both The Moondoggies and The Dutchess and The Duke performing live in the same venue on the same night was a no-decision — I was going to be there hell or high water. Now, I’ve seen The Moondoggies twice in the last month and I’d literally stumbled through a low-key Dutchess and The Duke show early this year, but for various reasons (uniformly revolving around alcohol) the experiences were never exactly up to par. Both bands’ recent releases have experienced some heavy rotation at the Sanders’ headquarters, and I was good and ready to see them in a better setting, with less booze coursing through my system.
That night at Neumo’s, I arrived early, excited and with a group of equally excited friends in tow, and I’m damn lucky that we got there in time to see the opening act, Navigator vs. Navigator.
I’ve never understood the live show attending music fans who spend the first two hours of a show getting housed in their apartments, while the opening bands plow through their sets to a handful of the devoted. The excitement of seeing a live show, at least in part, is the thrill of discovery, the sheer beauty in seeing a band you’ve never heard of and having your mind unexpectedly blown. Oh sure, the chances of the opening bands sucking are exponentially higher, but if that’s the case, that’s what the little handstamp they give you at the door is for. You can leave and go drink somewhere else, but at least get there early and give the unheard acts a chance. ‘Cause every once in a while you’re going to be treated to an act that knocks you on your ass, and all of those dance-punk rip-off acts you were subjected to prior will just disappear.
At least that’s how I felt after checking out Navigator vs. Navigator. Comparisons are a dime-a-dozen in these days of internet criticism, but I can’t help but say it: Navigator vs. Navigator sounded like Wolf Parade. It was all there: the jaunty, high-energy, keyboard-tinged indie rock; the delicate shifts from quiet melody to jarring noise; even the drastic differences between the two lead singers’ voices. What they lacked in originality though, they made up for in sheer energy, and as the foursome pulled through a short on-point set, the crowd swelled noticeably. This is the first I’ve ever heard of Navigator vs. Navigator, but I’m pretty assured it won’t be the last.
As I said earlier, I’ve seen The Moondoggies twice in the last month, and though neither setting or experience was perfect, I left both times with a huge shit-eater plastered on my face. These modest, completely unglamorous musicians have managed to capture the raucous, loose spirit of mid-70s acts like The Band, while managing to avoid pure emulation. After a third live set, I’m willing and ready to crown these guys as the most entertaining live act performing in Seattle right now, and I base this on the musical interaction of the band itself. This isn’t a one-man, or even two-man show; this is a band, a group of musicians who play off each other in ways that create a warmth-soaked style of rock and roll you just can’t help but enjoy.
This foursome is known to play and play and play if given the chance, so perhaps for the newcomer a more restricted opening set of their backwoods rock and roll is the best place to start. I on the other hand can’t wait until they get the headlining slot at The Blue Moon Tavern on the 1st of November, so I can nurse a beer or five and just let their good times sound really sink in.
Of any band I’ve seen live lately, The Dutchess and The Duke‘s performance last week managed to stir up the most debate amongst my group of friends. Sure, before going in to the show, I was a bit concerned about just how this duo would translate their jangly, acoustic-pop to the live setting. It’s beautiful, fun music, but it isn’t the most dynamic, and I wondered if in the wake of the bar room bluster of The Moondoggies, it might seem (yikes) boring. And, to say the least, when Jesse Lortz, Kimberly Morrison, and their unnamed auxiliary percussionist stepped on stage and promptly turned off the lights, my worries were a heightened. I’ll say this: the show The Dutchess and The Duke put on was not the most exciting nor the greatest live set I’ve ever seen. For whatever reason, in the live setting, the two musicians slowed down their already slow music, and without the presence of a live show, or even a lively bass rhythm, they still created a distinct atmosphere, if not an entirely exciting one. As the threesome slowly tore through their entire, but small, collection of tracks, adding little to the already established compositions, for whatever reason, maybe the small crowd or the intimacy provided by the lack of a light show, I felt really in touch with the group and with the audience as a whole. It felt as if we were there enjoying a communal experience and not just standing before a trio of musicians playing some tunes.
After the show though, my group of friends were dropping words like “condescending” in their description of the act. As if the low key, almost surreal, reproduction of the album was an affront to what they had come to see — a lazy performance even. In my mind, I don’t know if there’s any other way The Dutchess and The Duke could have performed their album, and this slow, open style created an ambience that left me as excited about this band as I ever was before. Maybe it’s a warning though: The Dutchess and The Duke aren’t going to live up to images you have in your head, so leave behind you expectations and I think you’ll really enjoy them.
At the end of the show, I was tired from arguing about a band and a performance I truly loved and was on the verge of getting fed up when a realization struck: this is what great music is supposed to do. It should challenge and stir and make you think about why you really liked something. If it’s divisive, it’s doing something right in my book, and thus, The Dutchess and The Duke, and Hardly Art, are certainly striking a good chord.