- Yellow vinyl
- This Old Crow
- Snake Queen
- Heart of the Sun
- Fears of the Dead
- Locked Outside
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds Records
On Cesar Chavez St. in Austin, Texas, far enough from the 6th St. epicenter of the hype machine known as SXSW, the weirdos seem to have made a haven called The Electric Church. On a given night, one might see an open mic/psych jam played out while video games are projected on the wall outside — they call it “Triptendo,” and rightly so — or local acts like Greenbeard, Amplified Heat or Peyote Coyote. I don’t know when Duel recorded Live at the Electric Church there, and I kind of like that. I’m sure somewhere on the CD or LP package there’s the date (digital promo) or I’m sure if you asked the band when they played that particular set, they wouldn’t keep it a secret, but I kind of like the thought of not knowing. If you’ve never been to Austin, it has traditionally been an enclave in Texas for artists, musicians, hippies and others who don’t fit the norm.
It’s cool to think that one might head up to a kind of off-the-path locale on the other side of the highway and find creativity flourishing in all its constantly misunderstood glory. Maybe Duel are on stage. The four-piece outfit have made themselves ambassadors of classic stoner rock, delivering the goods with ’70s flair, modern fuzz, and abundant hooks as they bounce and careen through deceptively memorable tracks. They’ve got two full-lengths out via Heavy Psych Sounds in 2016’s Fears of the Dead and 2017’s Witchbanger, and with Live at the Electric Church, they show off the energy and the clear delivery that typifies the approach they’ve developed on tours of the US and Europe.
The set is a little over half an hour long and is comprised of six songs, four of which come from Fears of the Dead, with only “The Snake Queen” and the subsequent “Heart of the Sun” taken from Witchbanger. Likely that has more to do with the timing of when the show was taped than some aesthetic consideration or a preference for the band for their debut over their sophomore outing. That is, Witchbanger probably just hadn’t been out all that long when they played that gig, or the four/two split might just as easily be reversed. As it is, “The Snake Queen” and “Heart of the Sun” make up the middle third of the set, with the brash “This Old Crow” and the righteous hook of “Electricity” before and the Fears of the Dead title-track and longer closer “Locked Outside” after.
Throughout, on new material and old, Duel‘s lineup of guitarist/vocalist Tom Frank, guitarist Jeff Henson, bassist/vocalist Shaun Avants and drummer JD Shadowz leave no question as to why they’d want to release this particular evening’s set as they not only sound dynamic in terms of speeding up or slowing down songs, but also in bringing different vibes through in their material, such as the transition from “Electricity” to the largely more subdued “Snake Queen,” which forsakes the all-go-all-destroy live ethic of some bands — nothing against it, especially for a shorter set — in favor of something richer on the whole. Captured by Crow Studios on a mobile recording unit, Live at the Electric Church is crisp and sharp sounding, but doesn’t lose its live edge in order to preserve its underlying melody or the aforementioned dynamic of approach. As with Duel on the whole, it finds a balance that works.
And if on this particular night they happened to play more cuts from the first album, so be it. I don’t think I’d trade the slow-roll-into-reignition of “Fears of the Dead” for much anyway. That song and the 8:49 “Locked Outside” are the longest two on Live at the Electric Church, and as on Fears of the Dead, much of the second half of the closer is given to a last instrumental push that after the shared vocals of Frank and Avantsin the trippy midsection takes hold fluidly and moves with natural ease toward the eventual grand crescendo of the set as a whole. From the quick and straightforward bruiser “This Old Crow” at the start, it’s a pretty wide-ranging journey toward “Locked Outside,” but as Duel shuffle and boogie their way through, they leave a trail of hooks behind for the audience to follow, and from the whoops and shouts between the songs, it sounds like they succeeded in that.
I haven’t had the pleasure of watching Duel live and I’m quite sure that if I had I’d be speaking about Live at the Electric Church in a different way, but part of the purpose of live albums in the first place isn’t just to give ans something else to latch onto between studio releases, but to give those who haven’t seen the band yet a teaser of what they’ve been missing. As someone in the latter category, I can only say Live at the Electric Church succeeds there as well, showcasing both the songwriting prowess and the vitality of the band while holding to the brazen feel that the songs demand. Everything works. Band, songs, performance. If you’ve got experience with Duel‘s prior work or you want a 32-minute sampler of what they can do, Live at the Electric Church serves to inform and thrill in kind.
- The Obelisk