The Dutchess and the Duke Sneaky Dee's, Toronto ON January 12
Published Jan 13, 2010Onomatopoetic buzz, as in a fuzzy sound produced by a malfunctioning cord/speaker combination, tarnishes an intimate show pretty quickly. From the outset of their Sneaky Dee's set, Seattle twosome the Dutchess and the Duke, struggled with sound issues. Despite swapping out a cable and toying with levels, lead picker Kimberly Morrison couldn't eliminate a tenacious buzzing, with the distracting din going on to handcuffed a diverse and often pretty set.
Eschewing electric guitars but retaining flannel, the Dutchess and the Duke fall into Seattle's post-grunge, indie folk movement (see Fleet Foxes, the Cave Singers, etc.). The band's songs teem with candour, two-part harmonies, and guitar-on-guitar flirtations. On disc, their arrangements are typically sparse; the live incarnation stripped down the aesthetic even further, mostly removing percussion and shining a light on singer Jesse Lortz's frank, eloquent lyrics.
Throughout, Morrison and Lortz commendably circumvented the limitations of the two-piece setup, offering an array of approaches (i.e., guitar rounds, solo croons, etc.) to keep things fresh. Convivial and soused, the amiable pair bantered playfully, quipping and ordering drinks from punters. And still the buzzing persisted.
While the unwanted hum essentially killed quiet numbers like "Mary" and "Back to Me," drowning out whispered vocals and string plucks, raucous selections fared far better. Rollicking Southern Gothic standout, "Reservoir Park," inspired a much-needed singalong, while "Never Had a Chance" joyously showcased Garth Algar-style championship whistling.
However, the faltering sound led to a few too many misfires, climaxing in a buzz-abetted, emo banshee version of "I Am a Ghost," replete with whinnying and an oft-beat tambourine care of opening act, Medication. Judiciously, the Dutchess and the Duke hammered back a couple more drinks, tossed off a shambolic take on the apposite "Armageddon" and called it a night.