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Cuff The Duke @ The Mod Club, Toronto 11/30/07

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Cuff the Duke @ The Mod Club 11/30/07

Review by David “Jaimoe†Ball

[blurb]Oshawa alt-country rockers Cuff the Duke put on one hell of a show Friday to the delight of a capacity crowd at The Mod Club in Toronto's chic Little Italy district. The gig was one of the last stops on their cross Canada tour and was my first taste of material from Cuff’s just released third studio album, Sidelines in the City. It also gave me a chance to check out their pared-down line-up featuring geeky glasses-wearing singer-guitarist Wayne Petti and fellow founding member Paul Lowman (on bass), plus key new additions Dale Murray (replacing original guitarist Jeff Peers) and drummer Corey Woods. No more strings, horns and other ambitions that had Cuff rivaling the on-stage chaos of an Arcade Fire concert.[/blurb]

Understandably, new songs dominated the 90-minute set, but I gotta say I liked every freaking one of them - admittedly my Sidelines in the City initiation was tainted because Cuff the Duke is a great live band and could make even a Tea Party song sound good. Regardless, I'm doing what Conan O'Brien said after My Morning Jacket thoroughly killed "One Big Holiday" on his program a number of years ago: "I am buying that record!" The new songs aren't necessarily better than the stuff from their 2005 self-titled minor masterpiece, but there's an exciting edge and music diversion taking place that finds the band ever-so-slightly exploring other branches stretched above their country-rock roots. Of course blending catchy instrumental arrangements with beautiful vocal harmonies remain at the core of Cuff's success, but this 4-piece incarnation (and sometimes adding a fifth member on piano/organ) puts a big bright spotlight on Petti and Murray's guitars and their love of jamming. Older favourites like "Take My Money and Run", "The Ballad of Poor John Henryâ€, "Belgium of Peru" and "The Future Hangs" were obvious crowd pleasers and had their usual guitar interplay, but they also had more oomph this time out thanks to Murray's heavy Gibson SG guitar tone replacing Peers' country-punk Fender twang.

Amiable front man Petti grinned a lot during the night, no doubt pleased with the enthusiastic fan reaction to excellent new cuts like gritty country blues "If I Live or If I Die" and Tom Pettyesque "Remember the Good Times", but a couple of other Sidelines guitar showcases topped everything else. Opener "Surging Revival" mixes Ben Folds power-pop with searching Crazy Horse solos and the dream-poppy “Failure to Some" rocked the house in a big reverb-drenched guitar jam way, taking a page or two out of My Morning Jacket's rulebook. Winging it through a cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care†highlighted a rowdy encore complete with Petti and company orchestrating a dueling audience chant and at the same time being fully engulfed by a stage full of gyrating fans. It felt just like old times. I’m not sure if they’ll still be able to pull off those antics in a few years, because Cuff the Duke can’t remain one of Canada’s best kept secrets for very much longer. *** 1/2 (out of 5)

Here's a link to Mercy Southam's exclusive photos of the Cuff the Duke show , including pics from the good opening act from Montreal, Land of Talk.

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