Black Carl and Gospel Claws at The Duce

Black Carl and Gospel Claws 
The Duce 
Friday, May 6

Who would have thought a boxing ring would make such a great stage? And that an old warehouse turned retro mini-mall and bar would have good acoustics? But both were so Friday night at The Duce in downtown Phoenix, where two well-known local bands, Black Carl and Gospel Claws, "faced off" in a ring with a red, white, and blue apron (packed with two drum sets, two basses, four guitars, a bunch of microphones and amplifiers, and various tambourines and maracas).

We jokingly referred to both bands playing in a boxing ring as a "fight," and interestingly, they alternated 20-minute sets to resemble rounds. If you asked Gospel Claws and Black Carl -- or some of the 200-plus people who were at this free show -- who "won," they'd probably say it was a draw. But Black Carl came out ahead on my score card. 

Phoenix-based indie rock band Gospel Claws played the first set -- in the dark, as they would their second set. I'm not sure why they wanted to rock in the shadows -- maybe they were trying to add to the moodiness of their songs, or maybe hide their bass player's blue shorts and brown loafers. Regardless, the music sounded pretty good once they laid off the reverb. The five guys in Gospel Claws are multi-instrumentalists who know their catchy pop hooks as well as their emo-soul crossover ballads. They remind me of another local band of multi-instrumentalists, What Laura Says Thinks and Feels, but with more high-pitched, Morrissey-esque vocals.

When Tempe-based rock-funk band Black Carl took the stage (with the lights on), singer Emma Pew (barefoot as usual) announced it was their first time playing The Duce, then proceeded to belt out one of Black Carl's many bass-driven jams. The crowd around the ring was thick, and many people sang along. When Pew hit a particularly soulful note, people raised their beers and cheered. Included in the band's first set was a new song, "Calendar Man," a slow, funky jaunt driven by two chords and a psychedelic, wailing harmony chorus.

Gospel Claws' second set in the darkness began with a quick sound check the singer kept apologizing for, and a catchy song I didn't catch the name of that sounds like a Hot Hot Heat song. The guys were sort of in their own world in this set, playing lots of slow jams while striking strange poses with their instruments. During the very low-tempo ballad "Size of My Heart," the singer raised his guitar high with his left arm, in a triumphant rock 'n' roll gesture usually reserved for something fiery and exciting. The band made a mistake during a timing change, but quickly revived the song with a great bluesy guitar solo.

By the time Black Carl took the stage for their second set (and the last set of the night), the beer-swilling, head-bopping crowd needed a pop of energy. The band gave it to them, gelling together on grooves until midnight, while Pew got the crowd clapping along in double-time and bantered between songs. Near the end of the set, she shared a joke she'd heard indie folk harpist Joanna Newson tell during her show at the Orpheum Theatre last November:

Why was the scarecrow given an award? 

Because he was out standing in his field.

Black Carl was pretty outstanding, too, and Gospel Claws wasn't bad. The only thing that could have made the show better for both bands would have been NOT hearing the restaurant P.A. system at The Duce continually announcing that orders were ready while they played. Nothing breaks a music buzz like hearing a girl's voice shouting "BANJO, YOUR ORDER IS READY AT THE FOOD TRAILER!" three times in a row.

Last Night: Black Carl and Gospel Claws at The Duce
The Crowd: Impressive in size, smaller in scope. There were a couple hundred people there; 80 percent looked like twentysomething hipsters.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Somebody should give that drummer [in Gospel Claws] a 'Best Moustache' Award."
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Black Carl since their self-released, self-titled 2008 EP, but hadn't seen them play live in almost two years.
Random notebook dump: "Crowd has thinned out...this is a tranquilizer of a song."(Jotted down during Gospel Claws' second set.)

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea