posted on May 09, 2011 19:00
A review of Duke Special (live in Kavanagh’s, Portlaoise)
Review Snapshot: While there’s no room in tonight's small venue for his piano, Duke Special still managed to put all his energy, enjoyment, and drama into a gig which enthralled us for over two hours. The Duke managed to silence us with his fascinating stories and history lessons, bringing a different perspective to what can be achieved when you mix music and art.
The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10
Full review: Having witnessed a few Duke Special gigs over the years, I thought I’d seen all this man has to offer, but I have to admit his May Day Bank Holiday performance in Portlaoise recently was the best I’ve seen him deliver. There’s standing room only as the venue cramped with 100 lucky people has an intimate feel to it, like he’s performing in your sitting room.
With at least six studio albums to his credit now, there’s no shortage of material to pick from, and the early part of the evening consist of tracks like 'As Good As It Get', 'Apple Jack' (a story about Adam and Eve) and the sing-along favourites 'Everybody Wants A Little Something Good' and 'Sweet Sweet Kisses'.
With Duke banging away on the keyboard, his partner in crime percussionist Chip Bailey frantically runs around the place, keeping the beat going on everything from the kitchen sink literally which brings a humorous angle to the show.
If Chip provides the humour, Duke’s serious lessons in history and art provide the darker side to tonight’s performance. There are stories about Irish washer women ('Washday Blues'), and Eastman’s Kodak camera ('You Press The Button, We Do The Rest') which Duke tells with such interest that you could have heard a pin drop.
Renowned for his interesting choices of cover-versions, he gets the crowd going with 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' segued in with his own song 'Diggin An Early Grave'. The recent Neil Hannon composition Wanda Darling Of The Jockey Club brings up back to the 1940’s.
In recent months Duke has been supporting DePaul Ireland, a charity that looks after alcoholics and homeless people (which Duke jokes that “most musicians are only two steps away from”). He donated the proceeds from his recent 'Songs of Ruby Murray' EP to this cause. We’re treated to the beautiful Happy Days And Lonely Nights from same, before the show goes into over-drive for a frantic finale of 'Last Night I Nearly Died' and 'Our Love Goes Deeper Than This'.
As the audience give him a standing ovation and shout for more, he duly obliges with a song that he says “wasn’t on the set list”. He beckons his support act Bill Coleman to get back on stage with his ukulele and we’re treated to a great version of Dylan’s 'I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight'.
Having gone well over his allotted time, the crowd applaud this genius, because that’s what he is. He may not have the hit singles under his belt, but he doesn’t need them. Duke Special has the talent, and the personality. He doesn’t need the commercialism to prove how good he really is.