Duke Special has changed. I remember seeing him play in 2006 on the first date of his five nights at a sold-out Empire in Belfast. The intimacy and showmanship was magical. Two years on and our beloved Vaudevillian piano-man has wandered a little from the trail. The new album, "I Never Thought This Day Would Come" wasn't the album I hopd for: a breath-taking evolution of his previous one. Sure Duke can still craft a catchy tune but the heart was gone. There were no real tear-jerkers, only a constant flow of grating jazz-folk and ska. Duke Special has become a clone of fellow Northern Ireland vaudevillain Black Sookie.
The show opened with a nice rendition of new song "Mockingbird Wish Me Luck" but it descended into ego worshipping as Duke unveiled a self-congratulating backing band (including some ridiculous Dio-looking twat on custom percussion). The best bit was honestly when Duke performed a solo piano version of "Freewheel" (ok he had a guitarist too). It was moving. Then the band performed a cover of The Specials' "Ghost Town". That one song summed up the entire night. Gone is the angst-ridden spectre behind an old piano or accordian, he is now bloated and bathing in the macabre waters of ska. The problem is Duke Special has almost lost touch with the fans. His merchandise didnt fly off the stalls and he constantly reminded us throughout the concert how much he was enjoying himself. No number of guest stars (of which there were many) could distract from a misguided preformance by Duke Special. Ditch the backing band dude. Get back to basics.
Verdict: *** (3/5) - Glimmers of what we love scattered amongst some failed experimentation.