When Crossfade checked in with The Duke Spirit on Thursday, the London rock band was lost and on the run somewhere outside Daytona Beach.
They finally arrived under cover of darkening skies, as the neon tubes buzzed on for the evening in Miami Beach. Crossfade tagged along to see what 29 hours in Miami was like for the band, currently opening for Jane's Addiction on their North American tour.
"I wish my body were a temple," says The Duke Spirit's singer, Liela Moss, as she adjusts her eyes to the dark of a Miami Beach barroom. "I wish I were a perfect, clean-living diva but the forces of alcohol always pull me back."
The forces are proving to be particularly strong this Thursday night in Miami Beach. Within minutes of crossing the causeway, the band has dropped off their bags and has found their first bar of the evening.
When the band enters The Abbey, they pause in front of the door and with the dying light behind them, they are unmistakably a rock band: lean but shaggy, with clothes dark, trim and silky like tactical camouflage designed for an invasion of a magician's steamer trunk.
When they take the Fillmore stage, the band will be a tightly coiled spring of greasy basslines and snarling guitar. The boys in the band will remain fairly stoic but Moss will twists and kick across the stage as though caught in a hurricane. Her wrists will turn as she winds her arms above her head and whips her head back to unleash her raspy, deep-throated howl.
"We've never had that one magic silver bullet track but that's cool," Moss says with a shrug. "This is what we do and there are always new things on the horizon."
The Duke Spirit has been a critical favorite in Europe ever since the NME called their first album "a melodic masterpiece of boldly indignant malevolent spite". In America, however, they're more of a cult band even though Perry Farrell handpicked the band to open the current Jane's Addiction tour, Gary Numan remixes their songs, and Alexander McQueen put Moss's face on a t-shirt.
Moss's blond hair swings in front of her face as she drags a chair across the room. There's an easy glamour about her that makes her straining unintentionally seem like posing for a fashion magazine. When Moss walks into a room, her first instinct is to set about rearranging the furniture and by now, the rest of the band is used to this and lets her do it without mention.
"I find it really awkward if it's not equal how people sit, if a couple of people are obscured," she says as she positions the chair just so.
The show tomorrow night will be the band's third time playing in Miami. Guitarist Luke Ford, tall and slim enough that he seems to sway each time someone walks past him, says our city reminds him of Rome.
"Not in how the two look. South Beach looks like it's made of ice cream," he says. "But like Rome, it's one of the great cities and so unlike anywhere else. And like Rome, a lot of bands never go there because it's such a far drive. But we love it here and the crowds are always great."
"When you arrive in Miami," Moss says, "you feel like you've just stepped into a candy store."
Like a lot of bands, The Duke Spirit likes bars. The band thinks they're a good way to get a good sense of a city they might not know well otherwise. And at The Abbey, "the icy coldness of the beer is much appreciated," says Moss.
Mostly, the band is glad to be off the road. Never mind their car chase earlier in the day; there are only a finite number of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire episodes they can watch as they drive from city to city.
They fill the downtime in different ways. Multi-instrumentalist Toby Butler does remixes as the band drives from show to show. Moss has a portable studio in a bag that she sets up in her hotel rooms. "Don't Wait," off their latest album, Bruiser, came out of one of those hotel sessions.
"That's the product of something Luke and I were doing," Moss says. "I remember a couple of days of constant days of rain in Charlotte. We were really far out of town, no museums or coffee shops nearby, so we wound up with that."
Soundcheck also offers chances to record new ideas as a full band. While they jam in an empty Fillmore the next day, Moss declares a particularly heavy bass riff as "really badass" and marks it down as something to explore for the next album.
"We find it helpful to play, yes, but mostly to observe and let that feed the material at a later date. If I'm trying to feed it, it feels forced," Moss says. "That might also be an excuse for being a lazy touring musician with far too much of an interest in the catering."
But this is their day off, so the band wanders and observes until they get to Kill Your Idol on Espanola Way, where they bet beers over coin flips with the bartender. They do quite well.
Just as the band starts to discuss the merits of fresh air, they notice a band setting up. The Duke Spirit feels a kindred spirit in Tus Idolos, a punk band from Puerto Rico who plays "rock and roll sucio." As soon as the first overdriven chord plays, the Duke Spirit is pogoing alongside the punks and goths until the bar closes.
With flushed cheeks, the band heads back to their hotel.
"One way I know we're doing well is that with every year that goes by, we get better luggage," Moss says. "Now we can go straight into hotels without the wheels coming off."
Show day is spent recovering from the night before and laying out on the beach to "let mother nature and Miami massage our weary bones," as Moss puts it. Laying in the sand, they handle the administrative email and phone call parts of being in a band that is on the road seven months a year.
This much sun at once seems to be a rarity for the Duke Spirit. Moss looks at her forearm, waving it slightly before her eyes. She seems as surprised by its newly pink color as she would have been by a third arm that had grown overnight.
Come the afternoon, the band loads in and starts to prepare for the show. Moss takes a cup of tea on a tour of the Fillmore grounds. Across 17th Street, Frank Gehry's New World Center reminds Moss of Vienna.
"We were there a few months ago," she says, "and they do the same thing, where they project the opera on the side of the house. People brought blankets and that's the kind of thing I just love, when a city gives things like that to its people. We were almost late for our own show."
And then it's time again, another chance to win over new fans for whom theirs is an unfamiliar name. The band's smiles will not be found by red search lights scraping the stage. Marc Sallis churns the room with his bass, keeping his face hidden behind a veil of hair.
Unlike other headliners, Jane's Addiction lets The Duke Spirit use the full capabilities of the venue's soundsystem. The floor throbs.
The gauzy drape of her sleeves unfurl around her as Moss throws herself from end to end of the stage. Olly Betts's curls bounce as he finesses his drum kit with the fluid motions of a poker dealer. The band is as hungry as they were when they started nearly ten years ago and they swallow the crowd whole.
In the morning, The Duke Spirit gets up early to check out the Charles LeDray retrospective at the Bass Art Museum and try Panther Coffee on their way back north to Clearwater, the next stop on the Jane's Addiction tour.
"The notion of constant movement and things being ephemeral, that's what touring gives you," Moss said the night before, sprawled across a couch positioned just to her liking. "And it really gives importance to the bonds you do make."
She lifted her drink to her lips but paused before taking another sip.
"You realize when you do what we do that 'home' is a mental state, something you cultivate inside yourself. Material objects don't keep you on an even keel," she said and then finished her drink. "But touring is not always as spiritual as that. My iPhone has a lot to do with it."
The Duke Spirit's Setlist at the Fillmore Miami Beach:
-"Everybody's Under Your Spell"
-"Hello to the Floor"
-"The Step and the Walk"
-"You Were Born Inside My Heart"
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