The first time I saw Oshawa’s Cuff the Duke a couple of years ago, they played to a half-empty 150-capacity club with black painted walls and the ceiling stripped of tile to improve the acoustics. Since then they’ve played to hundreds, if not thousands, at the Ottawa Bluesfest, received a bunch of positive reviews from international magazines for their self-titled sophomore album and collected enough acclaim to play the chandelier-lit, heavily gilded and mirrored Barrymore’s.

I arrived at Barrymore’s to find nine white-clad musicians, at least a few of whom appeared to be members of Cuff the Duke, already on the stage. Three of them were playing vibraphones. One musician was just getting behind one of the two drum kits. Cuff the Duke’s Wayne Petti was sitting behind the piano and three others were playing guitar, bass or keyboard.

“Who is this?” I asked one of the security staff.


I zipped down to grab a few photos just before the band finished its final cinematic pop number and left the stage. “Thanks, we’re the Hylozoists!”

Figures – Paul Aucoin, one of the Hylozoists’ vibraphonists, also produced CtD’s latest album. Alt-country rock fans may know him better as Critter from the Sadies.

I was definitely disappointed to have missed the lion’s share of their set, both because the audience applauded enthusiastically and because I could have sworn the group broke up years ago. Seems they’ve reformed!

Next up were Ottawa’s John Henrys, a very capable band that manages the rare feat of playing in the “California country rock” without actually mentioning California in any of their songs. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the Eureka State, but as I’ve said before, I’ve had my fill of tunes rhapsodizing about California from bands that have never been further west than Idaho.)

They zipped through a dozen songs from their debut, as well as a few from an upcoming album and also left the stage to considerable applause.

Cuff the Duke, accompanied by Aucoin, took the stage shortly after. The band has been described as both alt-country and Beach Boys fans.
Their music does seem to be the offspring of several sources.The working class rocker 'Take My Money and Run' would be at home on a Hold Steady or Bruce Springsteen. 'The Ballad of Poor John Henry' (dedicated to the openers) had a more country feel, while some other numbers had a post rock feel stripped down simplicity or were plain pop. Through it Wayne Petti, the band’s short, slim and bespectacled frontman was an energetic presence on stage, stepping up to its lip to hold his guitar out over the crowd or raise it aloft.

Even Jeff Peers, the band’s most low-key member, was engaged with the rest of the band and the enthusiastic audience, which was bouncing around enough to make the floor flex perceptibly.

The crowd roared the band back for an encore, and the impressed chatter continued on well down the street as it filter down the stairs and away.

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