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Review Sat Aug 30 2014
It's been four years since The Dutchess and The Duke, Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz, were at the Empty Bottle for an epic and legendary show filled with stories about cowboy kisses and bar top dancing galore. A little after that the same year the duo called it quits, leaving behind two incredible albums, She's The Dutchess, He's The Duke and Sunset/Sunrise, drenched with warm memories of their lovely voices. Luckily the duo reunited this past Wednesday with a full band for a pair of Midwest shows, returning to an adoring crowd at the Empty Bottle.
Opening up the night was Brian Case of Disappears with a particularly interesting set consisting one uninterrupted study on sound. It definitely wasn't or everyone, but it's the sort of experimentation that I eagerly enjoy. Case played a slowly evolving drone, keeping it low and haunting as the deep bellows of the guitar would occasionally rise out, seemingly without warning. It was a very atmospheric performance, with Case's meditative rocking edging on transcendence, gently shifting the hum of his guitar for nearly 20 minutes.
The second opener diverged from Case's long dirge to incredibly short poppy songs of The Lemons. I would be surprised if any of the songs they performed clocked in longer than a couple minutes, which was really part of their charm. You know you're in for a treat with citrus centric stage names like John Lemon and Chris Twist are commonplace. The Lemon's rapid fire set was filled with just enough goofy cartoon voices from their drummer Juicy James and self-deprecating humor. "Is this our worst show?" they quietly quipped between some of the most enjoyable bubblegum pop I've heard in sometime. Their songs were danceable and instantly catchy, from the super sweet "My Candy Girl" to the cheerful "Best Day" that ended their set.
Very little time passed before The Dutchess and the Duke made their way to the stage accompanied by a full band. They started off with "Scorpio", a beautifully sad song that the band played with poise. Despite the sudden return and four years of musical separation, Morrison and Lortz eased into their performance quite easily. Their new song "Good Time Marijuana Sunshine Band", which Lortz later jokes about being a name for a band that got turned into a t-shirt that got turned into a song, felt like a lost old favorite. It was as if the four year absence was immediately erased with the cohesiveness of their show that night.
While their antics weren't as crazy as their last show at Empty Bottle, aside from a tray of tequila shots for the band midway through the set, The Dutchess and The Duke did bring their best to the show. Songs like "Reservoir Park" and "Out of Time" sound as fresh as the first time I had heard them. Even with a fantastic full band, all eyes were on Morrisson and Lortz. There was only one feeling moment where the duo let the rest of the band take a break as they played "Never Had a Chance" and "Ship Made of Stone". This moment really showed how well the two musicians have aged musically, gracefully rendering these songs with every bit of emotion in them. .
Despite the short period that the duo was active, their songs touched those lucky enough to hear them and had a lasting impression. When the band returned they continued the set with "Let it Die" and "I'm Ghost", which Lortz introduced as "some bummer shit". There is a strong sense of melancholy that borders close to full on sad bastard with all of their songs, but that's their appeal. They hurt and fear just as bad as you or I ever did and will. They ended the set appropriately with "Armageddon Song", a track that relies on the good things in life as it all crumbles down. Cue cards with the song lyrics sprawled out on them rapidly waved onstage while an audience member jumped up to join the band on bells. "I'm Feeling Alright" read a few of the cards that were barely needed. Everyone knew the words. The crowd had been behind every song that night, showing their approval as they sang along.There was no better way to finish off a great evening with The Dutchess and The Duke than with a joyful song about being fine the end of it all.