“Rock and roll,” Jason Lee explains in Almost Famous, is a voice that says, “here I am… and fuck you if you can’t understand me.” In the case of the Duke and the King, at times it appears that the roots rock duo is trying too hard to be understood. From an album that borrows its title from a Robert Frost poem and dedicates songs to Barack Obama and Harriet Tubman, as well as a look seemingly ripped from the pages of the latest Urban Outfitters catalog, the band’s persona may appear a bit contrived. However, the good news is that they do a very solid job of conjuring up the ghosts of 60’s folk rockers past.
Local Armida Riddle – a modern, ukulele-totting Patsy Cline with tales to tell (Riddle claimed to the crowd that she’d recently converted her 401(k) to Nicaraguan cocaine) – showed off impressive pipes in a stripped down opening set highlighted by murder revenge ballad “Leavin’ On My Mind.” Then the Catskill Mountain boys took the stage, performing an amped up set spanning the duo’s new release, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Featuring lead singer/guitarist Simone Felice, formerly of New York folk troupe the Felice Brothers, and bass man Robert “Chicken” Burke, an occasional George Clinton collaborator, the Duke and the King released its first LP in early August. Nothing Gold is a sparse, acoustic-heavy drive down the great American highway that Felice has described as “the soundtrack of a long fateful winter.”
During this late stop on the band’s summer tour, the bulk of the material retained a Simon and Garfunkel modeled folk sentimentalism. This included “Union Street,” which Felice told the crowd “is a song about growing up in the 80’s and fallin’ in love with music.” Yet a number of the tracks were also bolstered by a little road weary piss and vinegar. With Felice plugged in and a violinist and drummer in tow, the Duke and the King stomped their boots in the sweaty summer night for rousing renditions of several Nothing Gold tracks, including standouts “If You Ever Get Famous” and “The Morning That I Get to Hell.” Ladling out the Americana lore in hearty helpings throughout the night, the band fittingly closed on a softer note with wistful “One More American Song.”