SXSW: Duffy


The most photographed blonde in America.

The Fader Fort
Fri. March 14

Don’t you hate the question “So what’ve you seen?” Does it freak you out a little? Make you self-conscious that your itinerary thus far has been insufficiently sweet? “Yeah man, last night I saw Lou Reed play ‘Heroin’ backed up by Vampire Weekend on the steps of the Driskill. Obama sat in on tambourine.” We are all searching for that one transcendent moment—either the epic celebrity sighting, or, more agreeably, the budding megastar who only you and 10 other people standing next to you know about, if only for 10 minutes—that’ll justify this whole bizarre, wearying experience.

We all need a Champion. And I suspect Duffy is/was it for a lot of people. Whispers within the truly surreal Fader Fort (loaded with skinny, aloof, ludicrously well-dressed twentysomethings; “Is that eyepatch ironic?” my companion asks of one gentleman) pegged this Welsh lass as the next Dusty Springfield, and this here (fairly) intimate afternoon gig as the equivalent of Amy Winehouse’s coming-out parties last year.

We wanted it so badly.

She’s pretty boring. Duffy is tiny, sweet, endearing, and indeed big of voice in that countrified belter sort of way, but backed by a pack of sleepy cocktail-lounge smooth-funk dudes, she mostly sleepwalks through a set far shorter than her soundcheck. Her tunes are invariably midtempo and mildly sassy, and though they allow her myriad opportunities to let ‘er rip, she lets ‘er rip in an overly polite way: Her stage-presence acumen consists entirely of raising her right arm for emphasis, and she occasionally waves the mic back and forth in front of her mouth to simulate a quavering vibrato. This is no substitute for actual emotion. It’s one thing for a lame crowd to only respond to The Big Hit, but Duffy and Co. themselves only perk up for “Mercy,” sort of a Santana-fied bungling of “Rehab” and/or “My Girl” in which Duffy repeatedly states that she’s begging for mercy, as opposed to sounding like she’s begging for mercy.

We, the unimpressed, eyepatched masses, take this disappointment pretty well. At least we got a lot of pictures.