I’ve now seen The Dutchess and the Duke five times in 2008, in spaces ranging from basements to mid-sized theaters, playing guitars electric and acoustic. The sound I found so bracing initially has only gotten tighter — there’s a force to Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison’s vocals in tandem that’s powerfully compelling, and each show I hear turns up more nuances, whether grim lyrical humor or interweaving melodies. They pretty much killed it, playing with far more intensity than you might expect from a Saturday afternoon party with a fairly laid-back crowd.
Up next were The End of the World, playing the first of three Saturday sets. I might have to reconsider my earlier assertion that the group seems to be evolving in a more conventionally rock direction: despite the fullness of their guitar sound and the added presence of pedal steel, what made both the Pianos set and a later one at Glasslands compelling was how certain traditional elements were recombined. You have vocals, drums, bass, guitar — sure. The guitars get loud, the vocals build, the pedal steel accentuates. But the payoffs happen in different places; despite familiar elements, they’re not necessarily a verse/chorus/verse-oriented group. At Pianos, playing on a borrowed drum kit that encountered some problems, the results were solid. At Glasslands, their sound became more resonant, fuller –
Following The End of the World at Pianos was Emmy the Great. Brooklyn Vegan had a quick blurb up on her music that I’d seen pre-festival which strikes me as relatively spot-on. One of the first bits of banter to be heard during the set mentioned a Lightspeed Champion set later that night, and I picked up a similar lyrical sensibility here: self-aware, hyper-literate, and fairly charming. Musically, I was reminded of late-80s Billy Bragg (see also: the autopsy-level examinations of relationships), and one song invoked Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a la Okkervil River’s incorporations of “Sloop John B” and “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember”. (I know Okkervil River weren’t the first to do this, but that’s what’s freshest in my mind right now.) All of it was done well, though at times the lyrical style veered a little closely into clever territory for my tastes.