Gig review: Duke Special at Phoenix

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The Phoenix hosted Irish musician Duke Special last Wednesday 18th March, as he visited Exeter during his 2015 UK tour. Supported by Paul Cook and The Chronicles, Duke Special made it a memorable night, breaking the usual boundary of performer and audience by initiating a dance break eruption on stage.

Walking up the stone steps of The Phoenix, we did not anticipate the chill atmosphere of the gig. Entering the room, there were concert goers relaxed in their chairs, having a chat with a glass of wine or a mixer as they waited for the performance to start. Early twentieth-century music played from the record player at centre back stage – a piano and single drum waiting for occupation to its upper right and a minuscule piano to its upper left.

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Paul Cook and The Chronicles opened the gig with a warning that he would be playing a bunch a songs that the audience hadn’t heard and Duke Special would be playing ones they had. Yet, he stole the audience’s sympathy and laughter with quirky interludes to his songs. Perfectly timed to the initial melody of each tracks, he embedded many analogies of ex-girlfriends who ended up breaking up with him. His acoustic set was beautifully played, with the overriding themes of love, relationships and breaks up prevalent in the lyrics.

Duke Special’s set was a tactful blend of songs from his new album and previous hits. Swigging a gulp of beer between tracks to keep those vocal chords going, he played five songs from the new album. A stand out one being Tweed Coats, which had a recording of a busy street in Belfast accompanying the piano melody, which created a pleasant displacement in the performance. Early music from his first ever EP were also played, along with a couple of songs from his collaborations and loads of eccentric covers of some of his favourite bands and artists. The audience especially responded to his theatrical and comedic cover performances of The Magnetic Fields’ record Andrew in Drag and of Ivor Cutler’s [Scottish poet, songwriter and humourist] songs.

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Dance break to Michael Jackson’s Beat It; can you spot Duke Special and Paul Cook and The Chronicles?

The show concluded with a continuous round of applause which saw Duke Special retake the stage, opening up suggestions for songs to be played. What ensued were piano versions of the likes of Wonda and Freewheel, before Paul Cook and The Chronicles joined Duke Special onstage. The audience expected a duet between the two when Duke announced that he “had never done this at a gig before”. What they actually received was a dance break to Michael Jackson’s Beat It, where the whole audience were invited on stage to rock out to the entire song [there is video evidence]. This led to an intimate conclusion to the gig, as the audience remained on stage, circling the piano while Duke Special ended the night with a mellow final song.

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Sophia Munyengeterwa

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