ARTIST Duke Special
VENUE The Empire Music Hall, Belfast
DATE Saturday 27 May 2006
The last time the Duke played two sold out nights at the Empire we thought he was criminally under-rated and overlooked. As the support act singer explained, to a full, anticipatory house tonight, "If you'd told me that eight months later this guy with dreadlocks would have signed a major record deal with a profile rising exponentially I'd have said, 'Yeah, that sounds about right.'"
Perhaps there is some justice that Belfast's best kept secret is about to be passed around to the rest of the world. Cameras buzzed and the atmosphere was electric. We know that the Empire may not contain Duke Special much longer.
He arrived on stage to howling cheers and wolf whistles. He's getting used to that by now. Launching straight into a couple of well known crowd favourites from 'Adventures in Gramophone' he then aired a few songs from the forth-coming record. It's tricky to sustain the interest of a restless audience to new material but Duke Special just about managed.
Chip Bailey, the charismatic, wiry-haired, percussionist pulled cheese graters and egg whisks out of his Tesco bag to hit just about anything and make a beat. During a brief interval he held a master class on elementary cheese grater rhythms. The Duke performed the rest of the set without much chat but still giving his all. The familiar sing-a-longs 'Freewheel' and 'Last Night I Nearly died' were highlights that enveloped the Empire from the front row to the back of the balcony.
For the second encore, Duke felt that it was time to make his circus a little more carnival. To the horror of the bouncers, he wheeled the piano into the middle of the audience, handed out song sheets and launched into 'Oh I do like to be beside the seaside' and 'Sesame Street'. Everybody in the immediate area joined in. It didn't quite go to plan as there were too many people and to retain the captive audience he closed the gig with a number on stage. Overall it was a solid performance, while not quite up to the high-water mark of the October shows, it still augers well for what must be a dazzling future.
The set list went something like this:
wake up scarlett
everybody wants a little something
slip of a girl
i let you down
ballad of a broken man
last night i nearly died
[chip's whisk rudiments]
no cover up
singalong (i do like to be beside the seaside/sesame street/john lennon love/love cats/video killed the radio star)