Dukes deliver in round two

Cuff the Duke frontman Wayne Petti breaks a sweat in front of a packed Grad Club in the second of two shows last week.
Cuff the Duke frontman Wayne Petti breaks a sweat in front of a packed Grad Club in the second of two shows last week.
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K-Town favourites Cuff the Duke slayed their fans—twice.
K-Town favourites Cuff the Duke slayed their fans—twice.
Photo: 

Concert Review: Cuff the Duke @ the Grad Club, Sept. 30

Anyone who thought that the only things that ever emerged from the seedy underbelly of Oshawa were cars needs to take a long look at the brightest export from the ’Shwa: Cuff the Duke. Riding the wave of their recent success, as well as the hype behind their newest self-titled offering, Cuff the Duke sauntered into Kingston for a two-night stint at their favoured Grad Club. Armed with a barrage of whiskey-soaked, bullet-holed country rock numbers, these lonely construction workers kicked in the doors of the Grad Club on Friday night—show number two—in front of an exceptionally intimate audience, and prepared to unload the heavy artillery.

The night started off with openers The Old Soul, a local seven-piece collective that bore a resemblance to The Decemberists, both in chosen garb and music. The band’s sound could be described as a jambalaya of jam, jazz, ska, indie-rock and cabaret, each member adding a certain spice to a dish that was—for the most part—well received. The Old Soul moved through a selection of numbers and then made way for the Nate Coles Outfit.

Hailing from Guelph, Coles and his Outfit appeared to have purchased their clothes at the ubiquitous indie rock shop frequented by the majority of bands that dot today’s musical landscape. Their music was generic, moody and slow at times, and occasionally gave off the slightest hint of a swagger. It was all very good head-bopping music, but nothing terribly original. The band played a series of tunes that received a modest response, but most of the crowd took the set as an opportunity to stop at the trough—I mean bar—in anticipation of the rough trails of Cuff the Duke.

Finally—after a minor delay and a plethora of sound problems—Cuff the Duke took the stage. There was about to be a shoot-out, but this one was welcome, perhaps even anticipated. The familiar strains of “No Sleep, No Heat” emanated from the speakers as lead singer Wayne Petti, resembling Bob Dylan fresh from a jaunt down Highway 61, approached the microphone. A chill was detectable as the song’s dank gloominess and oh-so-chantable chorus washed over the crowd. Maintaining the empty-saloon vibe, the band progressed into the opening track of their 2002 album Life Stories for Minimum Wage, “Blackheart,” and the crowd ate it up.

While the crowd soared with enthusiasm, a general air of disinterest surrounded the band members. Jeff Peers gazed out into the crowd with a look as vacant as Larry’s Pit Stop and even Petti—doing his best Nikki Sixx impression, bass raised, fist up—seemed a little distracted. Fortunately, this was all lost on the crowd, and as the band shimmied through songs like “Belgium or Peru” and “I Really Want to Help You,” they seemed to find their groove. As the set progressed, more and more pairs of Chuck Taylors began to awkwardly bust out honky-tonk moves, made all the more difficult by the cramped space at the Grad Club.

Finding their way into “The Ballad of Poor John Henry,” featuring an impressive falsetto, the band was rocking. But Cuff the Duke still seemed restrained, afraid to slay all those at the O.K. Corral. When they reached the crowd-favourite “Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker,” the room exploded with approval. The introspective tear-jerker of a tune proved that Cuff the Duke can pluck the heart strings of even the roughest cattle rustler and make them resonate with a twang akin to the Jeff Peers’ Telecaster. The crowd chanting the ending of the song was an exceptionally powerful moment and proved that the Dukes had the crowd in their pocket. The boys strutted through a handful more tracks, including “Take My Money and Run” and “Anti-Social” before reaching the climax. They had thoroughly laid Kingston out flat, and as they strode across the beer-slicked Grad Club floor, spurs clinking, you could sense they were satisfied—ready to ride on to the next town and take on the next batch of eager fans and wide-eyed revellers.

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