“If the music stopped, so would I. I would not die but surely I would not be alive.” -“Alive”
Natalie Duke took the stage at Davenport’s Piano Bar- just in the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park- this past Wednesday, June 20th. The second of 4 summer feature performances, the show was intimate and fully showcased the incredibly talented Nashville-born writer/performer. The stage was low and the setup was simple, even more so after sharing that her guitar’s electric hookup had broken before the show began. The set proceeded acoustically and confidently though, and no malfunction was felt.
Natalie Duke is certainly a diamond in our sandy Chicago ruff. She brings jazz into the modern female indie-scene, with a twist of cabaret and variety spanning decades of genres. She flaunts an attitude in her music that’s hidden beneath her big eyes and draped bangs- so don’t mistake her spoken sweetness for vulnerability. Instead we’ll admire her grace as she entertains us with humorous, inspired songs.
She opened with “I Feel it All” by Feist, introducing her fellow performers on maracas, guitar, piano and backup vocals. These two vocalists mostly harmonized like The Supremes, but they also surprised us with rapping solos alongside Duke’s minor-key bass lines in “Poison.” Lights dimmed for Duke next song, a cover of Adele’s “Melt My Heart to Stone.” This rendition was scattered with sexy falsetto breaks, well chosen for Duke’s vocal abilities.
With the fourth song, Duke returned to an original. Piano introduced “Come Down,” a song flooding with back up vocal harmonies that accompany her seductively pitched verses. Immediately following was another original tune entitled “Stand.” Duke begins to refine her sound with these two songs; both showcase her vocal individuality and are extremely well-composed, while still avoiding any prototype for the ‘indie female’ singer’s ballad.
“At Last” by Etta James allowed Duke to strut what is now clear to be her alto forte. Another well-executed cover was Kate Nash’s “Dickhead,” an apathetically clever ode to, well… that dickhead man you know so well. Declaring then a song about her dickhead, Duke rolled out an original entitled “Gift.” Passive and hysterically awesome (says one audience member) this ironically perky track is a climactic catch, I quote, “…you inconsiderate, insignificant, preachy hypocrite, jealous robotic… I give you this song, my gift to you my love!”
It was about halfway through the set that Duke brought out her recently acquired looping machine. She covered Rhianna’s “What’s My Name” and Gotye & Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” She creates a one woman show while strutting her timing and loop-tech skills by building layers, singing against her own harmonies and breaking the layers down again. Kimbra would be proud.
By the end of the show it became apparent that Natalie’s original songs succeeded the quality of her covers. Although fresh to our ears, they are catchy and creative. Many can be found on her website but I’d better suggest a trip to one of her upcoming Davenport’s shows (7/25, 7/28), where Duke and her flirtatious red guitar can serenade you with a healthy dose of fresh female sounds.