The Duke Spirit, Manchester University

Manchester University

The Duke Spirit are a textbook example of trying again when at first you don't succeed. They were one of the many hotly tipped bands of 2005 whose career ended up in a puddle rather than a splash. Now, after a rethink, they have returned with a new record label and an excellent second album, Neptune.

Singer Leila Moss typifies their new confidence. A platinum blonde in a gold dress, she runs through the Deborah Harry catalogue of sensual stage moves (arm towards ceiling, flat of hand on bosom and expression of mock outrage), and isn't short on Courtney Love-type attitude and Stevie Nicks mystique.

Her band play robust pop-rock with plenty of edge and melodrama, having clearly picked up tips on guitar warfare from the Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. They reel off excellent snaking guitar lines and percussive motifs, and when Moss grabs percussive sticks, mouth organ and tambourine, she seems to be doing more work than many bands' entire lineup put together.

Perhaps, in the time out, she realised that perspiration must equal inspiration - but she is not short of the latter. Her vocals have a hint of Nico about them on occasions, a Germanic touch: quite an achievement for a former art student from Cheltenham. When Moss frets about "all-time low fitness levels", it seems she may end the tour in an oxygen tent. But her task is made easier by material such as the glorious, Spector-esque Sovereign.

An enthusiastic reception suggests the hard work is paying off; only older songs lower the bar. "Just as well we put the new album out, isn't it?" admits Moss, and launches into This Ship Was Built to Last - a statement of intent that may well prove prophetic.

· At Thekla, Bristol (08713 100 000), tomorrow. Then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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