Cuff the Duke at Lee’s Palace, Toronto – Live Review

March 23, 2010

Gig / Concert: Cuff the Duke
Venue: Lee’s Palace, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 20 March 2010
Headiner: Cuff the Duke
In One Word: Discover

My boyfriend’s from Oshawa so he’s known about Cuff the Duke forever.

He’s a musician and I write a lot of music reviews, so the two of us end up going to a lot of shows together. Sometimes they’re the type of shows that you have to buy tickets to in advance. Other times we just show up and watch the house band. Our adventures in indie rock have brought us to some exciting venues, and one night while we were out at the Dakota Tavern watching the Beauties he put his arm around me, and in that concert whisper he yelled into my ear “Do you seriously like this music!?” I think about the implications of admitting to liking country music in more than an ironic way, and yell back yes. “We should go see Cuff the Duke!”

I’d never heard of Cuff the Duke before, but as it turns out, they’ve been recording and touring since 2002 when they released their first album Life Stories for Minimum Wage on Three Gut Records. Since, they’ve recorded another 3 albums, and their latest release Way Down Here from Noble Recordings was actually produced by Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor at his studio in rural Ontario. Right now the band is finishing a final 3 dates of touring with Blue Rodeo before heading south to the States to promote their latest album, which released 8 September, 2009. 18 of the band’s 19 dates in the states has them opening for Serena Ryder, but between gigs for Serena and Blue Rodeo they made time to headline a couple of shows in the province, including a March 20th show at Lee’s Palace.

Cuff the Duke

Cuff the Duke mugshots - photo by Joe Fuda

There was a celebratory feeling in the air because the band is celebrating being short-listed for a Juno in the adult alternative category at this year’s show in St. John’s. The band seemed pretty certain that they wouldn’t take home the award, a sentiment they repeated at the show a few times between songs, as well as by the fact that they will not be attending the show because of their upcoming states tour.

Now I don’t know where Oshawa pride hides when Cuff the Duke aren’t playing because I’ve never heard anyone say anything nice about Oshawa inside or outside the city- but there sure was a lot of Oshawa pride present at the show which really came to a head when the band played their song “Rossland Square”. The song takes its name from a stripmall where they would go and drink underage, and the song is about original band members Wayne Petti and Paul Lowman’s experience growing up in “the dirty dirty ‘Shwa”.

But if the folks at Lee’s Palace were proud that night, they were well in their right to be. It was a great show and a great night. The band plays with a real professionalism that comes from touring with a lot of talented acts over the years, and played through even when a keyboard malfunctioned mid-song. Their energy on stage, the nerd rock appeal of lead singer Wayne Petti, and the band’s tendency to switch instruments between songs ended up reminding me of another band that moved from a smaller Canadian city to Toronto- Sloan. I don’t know if the band officially takes Sloan as one of their influences, but Cuff has opened up for the band on a few occasions and one can’t help but draw comparisons between the two bouncy brands of alt-rock, and the smooth vocal harmonies of both groups.

Some will say that Way Down Here lacks the energy of Cuff’s previous work, and it’s true that this album has a more relaxed sound than the band’s previous work- a sound they attribute to getting to record in the privacy of Keelor’s country studio, where they didn’t feel like they had to fight to be heard over bands playing in adjacent rooms. The bulk of the Lee’s Palace show content drew on the new album, so I picked up a copy of the album after the band’s set to get a better feel for it. While it’s true that the beginning of the album lacks some steam, and although track “Follow Me” is an outright fail that I would never play to anyone I was trying to convince of the validity of alt-country, the boys have got a great sound that nods to previous work in the genre while always feeling current.

The night ended with a bouncy 2 song encore, and the last song of the night “Take my Money and Run” finished to a huge roar of applause. After this show they go back to gigging for bigger bands again, but at Lee’s Palace they showed what many Oshawa citizens already know. Cuff the Duke can more than hold their own.

© Natascha Malta, Music Vice

Related links:
Cuff the Duke – Official Website


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