Sometimes the powers that be provide weekends that line up perfectly in the music world. This past weekend was an example of such a musical alignment, featuring back-to-back nights of live music. Friday’s show was a raging stadium show courtesy by Arcade Fire, which was absolutely amazing. My one comment on that night, since it was not an indie show, was that Arcade Fire’s new Reflektor tunes were blown out of the water by any song from their older songs. After blasting my ears out, I was ready for a nice and easy sit down evening. The perfect spot for such shows in Ottawa is the NAC, and gracing the Studio stage on Saturday evening was Oshawa’s Cuff the Duke. This was just the blend of easy-going folk and guitar-driven rock that I wanted.
Cuff the Duke happened to be my first show at the NAC’s Studio, which provided a very different atmosphere from the Fourth Stage that I am used to. Geared for an intimate yet somewhat formal performance, the Studio features steep rising seats surrounding the small stage in a dark, closed-off setting that really absorbs the audience. During Cuff the Duke’s show I felt like there was nothing outside of the performance. Like every room at the NAC, the acoustics were delicate and powerful. Every seat in that room is close to the show, with a respectful crowd that allows audience members to have brief interchanges with the band members between songs. Frontman Wayne Petti’s mentions of venues like Maverick’s or The Horseshoe Tavern gave the audience the impression that to have Cuff the Duke at a venue like the Studio was a special occasion, one for which the band would bring out their best.
Cuff the Duke’s folk-rock with strong country leanings made for a very pleasant experience. Their stories of the road were delivered on a familiar backdrop of two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. I really felt that the drums and keys were the standouts of the show. I think the drums (AJ Johnson) got a good boost due to my seat, which allowed me to see just above the drumset to get a perfect view of every subtlety. Keyboardist Thom Hammerton filled out the colour for the band, and provided some excellent blues-oriented solos. Unfortunately I felt that the lead guitarist really needed a bit more volume during his solos, as I could only here the framework of his solos and missed out on all the fiddly bits. As I mentioned the sound in the Studio was excellent with this exception, so I think it was simply a problem with the mix.
Cuff the Duke started the show by warming up the audience with a few straight playthrough tunes, but steadily ramped up the intensity into planned jams by the end of the show. The extended songs proved to be the highlights, as is always the case when I see live music, and they managed to properly showcase each member of the band. They also got some pretty decent audience singing on tunes like “If I Live or Die” and “Follow Me”.
I would like to take another look at Cuff the Duke in a more high energy venue, but this time around I needed to simply sit and listen with great clarity, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect and anticipate whenever I head down to the NAC. I will now sit patiently and await both my next NAC and my next Cuff the Duke show. Hopefully neither of them take too long to get here!
PS. There is a really great showcase being put on by Landmark Events. The idea behind the showcase, which will take place in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, is to bring independent bands together with music industry people to help kickstart their careers. Any band can send in a submission, and a handful will be selected to perform at the showcases, as well as have the possibility to win things like professional studio time, label submissions, publicity campaigns, and lots of other wonderful stuff. The deadline for submissions is TOMORROW, March 20, for the Montreal and Toronto events. The OTTAWA DEADLINE is April 18. Here’s a link to their website, I strongly encourage local bands to check it out and to send in their music: http://www.landmarkevents.net/signup.php