It’s always risky to see a band when they’re not promoting a new album. There’s always the possibility of finding a lot of new songs thrown into the mix, which can seriously hamper, if not altogether halt, what might have been a really fun show. So it was no surprise that Saturday night’s Cuff The Duke show, a sold out affair infront of a well-liquored audience, was lopsided, filled with new songs from the third Cuff The Duke album, which they will soon go into the studio to record. Don’t take that to mean that the songs were in any way bad, because they’re not. They manage to walk the fine line between being alt-country but not sounding derivative or repetitive. It was just obvious that it was not what the audience wanted.
The band opened with a strong rendition of “Blackheart,” sounding tough, ragged and great. Even though going through some lineup changes since releasing their last record, they have not lost any of their trademark musicianship. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Wayne Petti may be a “cute little thing,” as one person in the audience described him, but he makes you forget that when he’s singing. He has such a crisp, clear, and earnest voice that is perfect for their country-rock songs.
The early part of their set was filled with songs from their self-titled record released in 2005, like “Belgium Or Peru” and “The Ballad Of Poor John Henry,” which were greeted by a hearty round of applause by the audience. “Take My Money And Run” was even dedicated to the city’s “fucking bullshit” thirty-dollar parking tickets. Then came the new songs, which killed the momentum as they lacked the intensity and familiarity of the show up to that point. While the band had no problems playing the song, they did not seem to be as relaxed as they were playing the older songs. It was not until “Ballad of a Lonely Construction Worker” came out during the encore that the show started to pick up again. It was a great way to end the show, but only emphasized the mediocre middle.
Sunparlour Players opened the show with a dramatic set of country tunes. The duo were seated for most of their set, allowing them to play percussion along with bass and guitar, but still had lots of energy that got the crowd into their set. Singer Andrew Penner has a yelp very similar to that of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, which fit in with their quirky, jittery songs. Their songs weren’t always that good, but they were still a very entertaining opener who are worth checking out live.
Photo, by ashlé, from an old Cuff The Duke show, with Wayne Petti wearing the same clothes as last night.