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Duke and King
Gig Review...
The Duke and the King, Aaron Shanley
We arrive in a freezing cold Empire to find a singer-songwriter gamely attempting to counter the pre-gig patter of an expectant crowd. A quick enquiry reveals it to be Aaron Shanley, an earnest young man with a bit of a buzz kicking around him.

He's got the looks and the lungs, at times recalling a young Ryan Adams or Bright Eyes, but the songwriting needs work - at times he veers far to close for comfort to some of Johnny Cash's canon.

His work is competent but he seriously needs expand his repertoire. While Country and Western isn't exactly a bundle of laughs, he could do well to remember that for every Folsom Prison Blues there's a One Piece at a Time, for every Stand by Your Man, there's a Theme From Rawhide.

The Duke and the King however, have 'it'. Their stage presence nails the crowd from the start - Simone Felice himself towering over the crowd, wearing a bright red bandana and looking like he's just beat Christopher Walken in a game of Russian roulette, while the Amazonian Simi Stone belts it out to the rafters with a voice as pure as virgin honey.

The drums aren't tucked away at the back, but set up stage left, bringing all four members of the band into focus. Yes, folks, that's right, the Duke and the King are one of those sickeningly talented bands who can change instruments at the drop of a hat, each player sharing the spotlight.

While the music occasionally verges on the clichéd it is never anything less than compelling from start to finish. But crucially it never develops into the sort of po-faced beard stroking that tends to mar an alt-country gig.

"We were on the Late Show in Dublin last night, with these two kids, with crazy hair!" cries Simone, approximating Jedward's hair, before the band launch into a fragment of the duo's take on Ghostbusters. "This song's dedicated to them" before launching in to If You Ever Get Famous.

The band's secret weapon is the combination of Felice's gritty bar-room vocals with the pure soul sounds of Simi Stone and Nowell �The Deacon' Haskins taking the white-bread sounds of the Catskills and marrying them with the sounds of Stax, Funkadelic and Marvin Gaye. An acappella version of Bill Withers' standard Lean On Me carries through the Empire and is taken up by the adoring crowd.

The encore kicks off with the grisly 9/11 ballad 'Don't Take That Plane Tonight' which descends into a chaotic jam, before the redemptive The Morning I Get To Hell. Once again the crowd picks up on the almost devotional refrain of 'Lie, oh lie, oh lie' The band take a bow, and try to leave but the audience keep going. Clearly touched the band come off stage for an impromptu walkabout, before returning for a final, triumphant chorus. The Duke and the King? Rock royalty.

Shane Horan

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Gig Details
Venue: Empire Hall
Location: Belfast
Date: 24/10/2010


Related Links
+ The Duke and the King
+ Aaron Shanley