Simone Felice never fails to deliver. Erstwhile drummer in the eponymous band he formed with his brothers, he now leads his own band, the Duke and the King. “Leads” is perhaps the wrong word though – I’ve seen few bands that are more democratic than D&TK. Where else would you see the singer take over on the drumkit so the bass player and drummer can sing? Or see the singer and drummer dance together while the violinist and bass player take centre stage?
D&TK, too, have taken a step beyond the kicking country sounds of the Felice Brothers. The country roots are still there, but the band incorporates soul and funk as well – most obviously when drummer Nowell Haskins takes lead on a cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.
While their records are good, it’s live that the D&TK shine. Their joy at playing together, indeed just at being alive, is obvious (earlier this year Simone came through surgery for a life-threatening heart condition, something which adds a poignant intensity to lyrics like ‘If You Ever Get Famous’ (“I say a prayer for your heart”) and the cover of the Felice Brothers’ ‘Radio Song’ (“please don’t you ever die/ever die/ever die”).
It’s a joy that the audience shares: the first time I saw D&TK was at a festival: I’d decided to check them out for a few minutes before seeing Shearwater, who were one of my ‘must-see’ artists of the festival. Five minutes into the Duke and the King’s set, my girlfriend and I turned to each other: “we’re staying here”, “yep”. This time around, the highlight is the audience participation on the traditional set-closer: Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’. As the song winds down, the audience begin singing the chorus, quietly at first, but gradually louder and louder, and Haskins improvises a call-and-response “let me hear you know”, “sing from deep down in your soul now” in reply. Truly magical.
Four people: black and white, male and female, playing soul and rock and roll and country and psychedelica with love and joy. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Every time I’ve seen The Duke and the King (this is the 4th) they’ve been magical, and every time they’ve played to a bigger crowd. Word of mouth is clearly paying off – take my advice and go see them, you won’t regret it.