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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Last Night: The Cave Singers, the Dutchess & the Duke, Moondoggies at the Independent

Posted By on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 11:21 AM

click to enlarge The Dutchess & the Duke - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Dutchess & the Duke
The Cave Singers, The Dutchess & The Duke, Moondoggies
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
The Independent

Better than: Grunge 2.0, drinking alone

The Sound of Seattle has shifted in the last decade. Sure the musicians spreading its influence around the country are again donning dark plaid flannels (it's cold up there) but instead of greasy hair, the men among them now have fuzzy beards; and in place of fuzzy chords, they have clear messages, earnest songs with woodsy aesthetics. It's the sound of punk grown up and reflecting back on the damage done, or of young old souls in touch with the cosmic country that came before them. Last night, three Northwest acts turned a chilly night cozy with rootsy tunes and tequila shots. 

The night went off like a gasoline bonfire as soon as Moondoggies took the stage. The mountain pop group's instant charisma was fueled in large part by confident three-part harmonies and strong Rhodes organ melodies, which aged the band comfortably beyond their twenty-something years. In their powerful, barnstorming songs were shades of ELO and Bad Company in the beginning, and The Band and the Grateful Dead by the end, when they mellowed out the hooks just slightly, becoming bar-band ballady by the end. 

click to enlarge Moondoggies - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Moondoggies
​Live, the single "Changing" was a great example of how the group circles around a pretty simple chorus ("Lord knows I need changin', cause it's time I start changin'") and lifts the song by altering the harmonies slightly as they go. They may be city boys, but Moondoggies countrified the tunes by drawling out those pronunciations a bit too, turning a song asking a pal where they're going "in my shoes" to "in my shews." This was inviting, unpretentious country rock, and the crowd responded in kind. By the third "How ya doin'?" from the band, the Independent was full and the revelers were answering with loud whoops of affection.

click to enlarge The Dutchess & the Duke - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Dutchess & the Duke
But while Moondoggies warmed the room up for a little camaraderie, the Dutchess & the Duke really addressed us like we were all just sharing a bottle in their living room. Perhaps it has something to do with there only being two people, each playing an acoustic guitar, in the group. Or it could be the way that Jesse Lortz broke that third wall by asking a girl in the front if she needed to pee--and later interrupted a song when she returned from the bathroom to make sure she felt better. 

But really, the biggest factor in feeling like you're part of this duo is the lyrics. I don't know another band so open and so poetic about the confusion that follows the end of a relationship. In their songs, lovers become ghosts and happy beginnings become stab wounds scabbed by guilt. On record, the Dutchess & the Duke relay messages of "I went and fucked it all up" with grace, their early Rolling Stones vibe adding a kick to such serious laments. But live, they can be counted on to play these bloodied-heart narratives with extra defiance, like emotional destruction ain't nothing to cry about when there's drinking to be done. 

Kimberly Morrison took the stage in her trademark fur hunting cap and cheshire grin, softening Lortz's gruffer admissions with a tenderness that makes their harmonies such a perfect blend. But on the flip side, she also provided a lot of the comic relief between the songs. "We should do a downer in between the few uppers that we have," she joked about the group's morose material. Morrison also put out the call for tequila shots until plastic cups full of the golden liquid were showered her way. That whole "be careful what you ask for" thing came true, as she slammed the shots, passing one along to local Greg Ashley, who joined the group on stage to add a little percussion (and brought with him the first round).

The contrasts of blues and booze, of the duo's wry sense of humor and its heartbreak catharsis, worked well. So when the band started to melt down, it just added to the material. The duo finished with "I Am Just a Ghost," which imploded just like the relationship it describes ("Don't put your arms around me/ Don't tell me that you need me/'Cause I can't give you nothing that you need.") Towards the end of the song, Lortz unstrapped his guitar and just wandered off stage and into the crowd, repeating the refrain "I am just a ghost" until it seemed his voice would give out. Morrison followed his lead slowly, edging her way to the lip of the stage without her guitar. In the background, Ashley kept just enough of a beat going to punctuate the chorus. In the end, the Dutchess & the Duke showed us what it was really like to disappear, fading into the crowd until their voices faded away completely.

click to enlarge The Cave Singers - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Cave Singers
​It was a tough act to follow. The Cave Singers were next, a trio that includes Derek Fudesco (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Murder City Devils). They continued the mountain jam vibe, with frontman Peter Quirk giving an animated performance between his harmonica solos and his wild gestures. He was red-faced from the start, the fire lit under the band's folksy rock tunes as the group boosted the energy to a high level once again. It was fun music, but after such an emotionally electrified set, it was hard to concentrate on the messages the Cave Singers were trying convey. Personally, I remained pleasantly haunted by their predecessors for the rest of the night. 

click to enlarge The Cave Singers - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Cave Singers
Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: Sure, plenty of musicians get their hearts stomped on and wail on the guitar about it, but the Dutchess & the Duke are on a totally different plane when it comes to that ubiquitous subject matter. They've produced some of my favorite records over the last couple years. Here's a little sample, one of my favorite songs (and one they once told me made them teary when they wrote it) "Hands." 

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Ian S. Port


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