Cuff the Duke give their all

Lead singer Wayne Petti belts it out.
Lead singer Wayne Petti belts it out.
Adam Bell of the Radical Dudez without his ukulele.
Adam Bell of the Radical Dudez without his ukulele.

Cuff the Duke @ The Grad Club

Cuff the Duke are all heart.

While the Flames and Canucks were battling it out on-screen in the Grad Club’s TV room, across the hall, Cuff the Duke were putting on a playoff-like performance of their own.

The boys of the Duke may be small in stature, but not in effort, as they proved once again at the Grad Club a few Saturdays ago. Like any playoff grinder worth his salt, Cuff the Duke save nothing for the next show. They empty their hearts on stage, giving everything they have—and more—all in the name of rock.

The self-proclaimed “weekend warriors” have been tearing up campuses across Ontario, playing shows every weekend in April, providing much needed exam relief to party hungry students across the province. Kingston was no exception.

The show began with the school year’s final performance of The Radical Dudez. The second place finishers of QEA’s Battle of the Bands lived up to their silver medal status with their guitar-driven, power-pop and clever songwriting. With a sound seemingly influenced by the mid-90s indie Can-rock of The Doughboys and early Treble Charger, The Radical Dudez showcase catchy riffs, wonderful harmonies, witty lyrics and, most of all, a ukulele. With lead vocalist, Adam Bell, singing “I miss my Hockey Night in Canada and girls who play in the snow,” the Dudez elicited boisterous applause from the small, yet devoted, gathering of fans intent on seeing their band end the year on a high note. The band also received sincere compliments from Wayne of Cuff the Duke, who made the comment that he’d seen a lot of student bands, and he really liked their set.

Next up was the charming Kate Maki, who has been touring the province with Cuff the Duke. The engaging and self-deprecating Maki endeared herself to the audience with her frequent and friendly between-song stage banter. Her country tunes were plaintive and thoughtful, but could not be fully appreciated amidst the talkative crowd. Her performance didn’t really pick up, until the guys in Cuff the Duke joined her onstage for the second half of her set. With a full band behind her, Maki was then able to have her show effectively resemble a kitchen ceilidh. Spirits were lifted, and Maki’s incredibly personable demeanor created the proper atmosphere to welcome the Duke.

In the spirit of their mostly instrumental, crowd pleaser, “Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker,” the boys of Cuff the Duke have always employed a blue-collar work ethic to their trade. Lead singer/guitarist Wayne Petti, guitarist Jeff Peers, bassist Paul Lowman and drummer Matt Faris, were joined at this show by Paul Aucoin on the vibraphone. Their road stories consist of broken-down vans, Albertan blizzards and spending hours upon hours criss-crossing the country in close quarters. I also recall, at a show about a year ago, guitarist Jeff Peers, asking the crowd if anyone had any freelance landscaping or construction work available, because the tour was over. This tireless work ethic manifests itself in their live performance as well as their clearly evident maturation as a band.

The band opened the show with “Blackheart,” the leading track of their debut album Life Stories For Minimum Wage and told the crowd, “We’re so glad to be back in Kingston.” They went on, however, to play a tonne of new songs, and mentioned their forthcoming album would probably be ready by the fall.

The new material showed the band has come along way from their naïve beginnings as a bunch of suburban cow-punks from the ’Shwa. The greater instrumentation, more complicated song structures and frequent pace changes of the new songs all illustrate the development of a band that has grown on the road—a band who’s relentless touring has shaped them into something even more special than before. Drummer, Matt Faris, who replaced Brad Fudge less than a year ago, now looks firmly established and comfortable in the band—no longer hesitant to incite the foot-stomping, fist-pumping mayhem that is so integral to the Cuff the Duke experience. The introduction of a second keyboard and the capacity of all three band members—aside from Faris—to trade instruments with each other and get behind the keys, have added an even greater element of versatility and expanse to the band’s sound. Despite the band’s young career, their continued development is evident in every show.

The band performed a handful of classic Duke songs, such as the dueling, “Hobo Night Stalker,” “Anti-social,” “Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker” and the powerful crescendo of “The Trouble and the Truth” interspersed between bevies of new tunes.

Despite the predominance of new material, the show remained a typical one for Cuff the Duke mainly because of the remarkable showmanship displayed by the unassuming troupe. Particularly by front man Wayne Petti, who was frequently the source of admiration and even inspiration, as he emphatically thrust his fists in the air and flung his tiny frame recklessly onto tabletops. He made the audience feel as if they were not just watching the show, but actually part of it.

That’s one thing that can be counted upon at any Cuff the Duke show—it will always be a party, and the Duke will always party hard.

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