Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Duke Spirit, The Electric Ballroom, London, 12.12.2006

I felt lost last night. I was there because of a band; the band were there because of a photo exhibition; the photo exhibition was there because of a sunglasses company; and the sunglasses company were there, I suppose, because of the inescapable nightmare circus of late capitalism. In other words, the Electric Ballroom was in danger of collapsing into some kind of public relations singularity, and I began to wonder why there was nobody there to hype poor old Ned Beauman. These expressions of the Spectacle only make sense as a whole. So, in descending order of power and ascending order of quality:

The inescapable nightmare circus of late capitalism: swag. 2/10

The sunglasses company: everyone was meant to get a free pair of Ray Bans as they left, but they ran out before I got mine. Luckily it gets dark by lunchtime at the moment so I can manage without. The point is, if they can afford to hand these out like fucking canapés, think what an utterly obscene mark-up they must be taking in the shops. Admittedly, when Liela from the Duke Spirit complained that the lights were too bright and briefly put on some Ray Bans as a little ironic gesture, they did look nice on her. But then so would pink polka-dot plastic pince-nez, because, of course, she is Liela from the Duke Spirit. 4/10

The photo exhibition: when Mick Rock launched a related show in New York, Mischa Barton came. No free sunglasses and no Mischa Barton! I was ripped off! Still, this was a fashion press event, so for once the band weren't the hottest people there. I saw one guy apparently dressed as a 1930s arms dealer.

Exhibition like this normally concentrate on gig photography, which has never made sense to me. After all, if there is really anything heroic about rock music – and my profession has no choice but to insist that there is – then it's to do with writing the songs, not with droning them out for the hundredth time in front of a stadium full of drunkards. The majesty is in the creative process. (I should point out that in the current Dummy, you can see The Killers in the studio, which is exactly right. Unfortunately Brandon Flowers wouldn't know a creative process if it broke into his house, tied him up, and shaved off his preposterous little moustache, so it's not quite the triumph it should have been. Not to worry.) But in these photos, you get neither, just competent magazine-cover shots of bands looking grumpy. When are we going to see Robert Smith cooing over a baby panda? 5/10

The band: as I said, this was a press event, so it was half-empty and most people were just there for the free drinks and shades. But the Duke Spirit managed to tear it up anyway. 2005's Cuts Across the Land remains maybe the greatest (and certainly the most underappreciated) album of straightforward rock music that Britain has produced this century. It takes PJ Harvey and the Velvet Underground and emphasises the tension and jeopardy and adventure – it's music for gun-fights and car-chases and love-scenes with the mobster's wife. This was even clearer last night when an added horn and saxophone gave them an almost Blaxploitation edge.

Liela, rather military in all black, started off looking like her heart wasn't quite in it, but by the end she was whirling and strutting. Their new material sounded good – actually some of it may have been off their recent covers project - but, for the few of us who were actually there because we loved the band, nothing could beat older songs like Lion Rip and (with those doomy toms) Love Is An Unfamiliar Name. See them at the ICA tonight if you possibly can. 8/10

Ned Beauman: on the way out, I was given a black Ray Ban bag with a box inside. There weren't any sunglasses in it, but it would have looked like there were. I got to the bus stop on Camden Road, and wandered over to look at the timetable, in front of which a young couple were standing. From my bearing and/or appearance as I stooped between them to check out the 253, the couple assumed I was trying to sell them the contents of the bag, and a confusing conversation ensued. This isn't the first time I've been mistaken for some kind of high-class rag-and-bone man, and I imagine it won't be the last. 10/10

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