Duking it out at Grad Club

Wayne Petti’s signature falsetto puts audience members in a stupor.
Wayne Petti’s signature falsetto puts audience members in a stupor.
The Peg’s Moses Mayes were a sweet surprise for early concertgoers.
The Peg’s Moses Mayes were a sweet surprise for early concertgoers.

An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Grad Club Wednesday night for a mid-week, pick-me-up dose of cow-punk from Oshawa’s own Cuff the Duke, and those in attendance were certainly not let down.

Winnipeg-based opener Moses Mayes surprised many of the uninitiated in the crowd, who were expecting a lone singer-songwriter-type to appear onstage. Instead, Moses Mayes turned out to be a seven-piece house-funk fusion band specializing in what they liked to call “urban groove.” Featuring a trumpet player, saxophonist and dancing turntablist/MC, the band warmed up the crowd with their infectious instrumentals. Along with the more conventional combo of guitar, bass, drums and keys, the musicians formed a cohesive unit, pumping out tunes that didn’t appear to vary greatly, yet still managed to engage the audience. The band, which sounded like a funkified New Deal, even managed to draw two fervent dancers towards the stage near the end of their set.

The meshing of the music of Moses Mayes and headliner Cuff the Duke was certainly an interesting juxtaposition of hyphen-inducing genres. As showgoers began to gather near the stage, they readied themselves for the audio shift from electro-house-funk fusion to alt-country-rock-pop.

Cuff the Duke, taking a break from touring the U.S. doubling as Hayden’s opener and backing band—their drumkit had “Elk Lake Serenaders,” a play on the name of Hayden’s latest release, written on the front—kicked off their set with “Julia,” a new song that had frontman Wayne Petti singing in high falsetto.

“We’re glad to be in Canada,” Petti told the cheering crowd.

He expressed the band’s disappointment in visiting legendary ’70s punk venue CBGB in New York City declaring, “New York has nothing on Kingston,” before breaking into “Blackheart,” from the band’s 2002 debut, Life Stories for Minimum Wage.

The 15-song set consisted of a fairly even mix of songs from the album and new ones that will most likely be found on their sophomore effort set to be released early next year.

Fans who attended Cuff the Duke’s two gigs at Queen’s last year would have been quite familiar with even the new songs. One such fan was rewarded for his familiarity with the band’s non-Life Stories material when “Mexican Wrestling Anthem” was played—according to Petti—“For the guy in the back,” who’d been hollering for it throughout the night.

As usual, the band had many musical tricks up their sleeves, like mid-song tempo changes and guitarist Jeff Peers playing “The Trouble and the Truth” with a violin bow and performing parts of new song, “It’s Over,” using only his left hand hammering on the fretboard while his right hit notes on a keyboard. Peers, Petti and bassist Paul Lowman shared duties playing the keys, proving they were adept at both strumming strings and tickling ivories. However, Petti’s harmonica did not make an appearance on Wednesday night, and it was sorely missed.

Cuff the Duke knew how to work up the crowd. Petti and Peers got up on benches and tables while playing their guitars, and at one point, Petti waded through the group clustered by the stage. Petti’s trademark rockstar posturing, with his head tilted back and guitar pointed towards the ceiling, induced rhythmic clapping and spirited chants of “Cuff ... the ... Duke!” accompanied by the pumping of fists into the air by many of the fans. Petti seemed so pleased with the crowd participation he proclaimed, “Kingston’s part of the band now.”

For the encore, Petti proved to be human when he came out to play “Long Winter” solo—apparently drummer Matt Faris, who replaced original drummer Brad Fudge last year, had not learned the song yet—and stumbled halfway through the song. This misstep did not deter the rousing cheers though. The band’s obvious passion for playing live shone through, and the euphoric energy was contagious.

That feeling of musical satisfaction was just what was needed to make it through the rest of the week.

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