Live Review: Marmaduke Duke

Behind the alter ego costumes lie beating hearts of weirdness and lunacy. School of Art, Glasgow, Friday, March 6

There may be a highly charged, home-crowd atmosphere tonight, but for Marmaduke Duke this is a homecoming in only the loosest sense of the word. The fleshy avatars that represent them onstage – Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil and Sucioperro’s JP Reid, tonight guising as The Atmosphere and The Dragon, respectively – hail from nearby Ayrshire. However, musically, sartorially and psychologically, Marmaduke Duke are from far darker and more twisted places than the west coast of Scotland. Any doubts about that are dispelled swiftly when they emerge in gimp masks and feather garlands and Neil (sorry, The Atmosphere) throws himself 20 feet in the air from the PA speakers to a soundtrack of sense-assaulting punk rock fury.

And he’s not even the star of his own show. That honour falls to a mysterious, white-suited dandy named The Duke, who glides blithely around the stage like a nightmarish vision of Bez reimagined as a gauche, pan-sexual lounge lizard. Yet, bizarre as it all looks and sounds – and as side-projects go, Marmaduke Duke are definitely at the loonier end of the spectrum – it’s ultimately meaningless if the music isn’t as weird and wonderful as the outfits. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Marmaduke Duke are a suitably schizophrenic spectacle, upending preconceptions with almost every other song. They jump from doom-laden punk cacophony (‘The Kill And The Kure’) to fragile acoustic interludes so faint and fleeting you have to strain your ear just to hear them (‘An Imposter And A Magician’), occasionally landing in the electro-pop middle-ground of new album ‘Duke Pandemonium’. It’s these moments that provide the most fun, like the coital disco clatter of ‘Erotic Robotic’ – tonight played with such frenzy you can hear the band struggling to keep up with themselves – or recent single ‘Kid Gloves’, on which they cast their eye to an electronic horizon and come up with three dreamlike minutes of pop wonderment.

Fittingly, they end on ‘Blunder And Haggis’, a long, unbroken and incredibly loud synth drone with the mantra “At least it wasn’t ordinary” repeated over the top of it. It’s unnerving, unsettling and wilfully obtuse: Marmaduke Duke in microcosm, basically. And, of course, it’s about as far from ordinary as it’s possible to get. Which leaves us wondering two things: who knew such lunacy stirred in the depths of Simon Neil’s soul? And why can’t all side-projects be this much fun?

Barry Nicolson