The moment you walk into the Winter Garden Theatre and marvel at the (fake) leaves hanging from the ceiling, the painted lit-up moon on the ceiling and tree trunk pillars, it’s like you’ve stepped into a magical place.
Halifax’s Jenn Grant took the stage first with her three-piece band, which included husband Daniel Ledwell. Her stage setup complemented the Theatre’s magical forest décor perfectly – a lit-up leaf-bare tree stood in the background and two owl lamps sat atop guitar amps.
Joking somewhat nervously, Grant greeted the audience with, “It’s good to be here in… Regina!” to which she revisited after playing several songs to assure that she had been just kidding. Somewhat giddy with a slight penchant to ramble, Grant’s bubbly personality was an adorable juxtaposition to her brooding, soulful songs.
During her set, Grant called upon Toronto musician Julie Fader and tourmates Cuff the Duke (who stood arranged like a barber shop group in front of one microphone) for backing vocals on several songs – most notably the upbeat “White Dove” from her latest album, The Beautiful Wild and “Parachutes” from Echoes.
However, make no mistake that Grant’s powerful, expressive voice requires any accompaniment – her voice truly shone in the fan-requested “Heartbreaker” and in a surprising or perhaps, random cover song later in the set. Grant, with only Ledwell on keyboards, performed a slow, soulful version of “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (yes, that iconic 80’s song!). Upon its introduction, Grant had a mischievous twinkle in her eye, but the song itself was delivered without irony.
Returning for a quick encore, Grant said wistfully, “I wish I could play you a hundred songs! But instead I will finish my set so I can drink wine and dance to Cuff the Duke.”
Cuff the Duke took the stage shortly after – with frontman Wayne Petti commenting on what a nice venue Winter Garden Theatre is – a far cry from shows they used to play in Oshawa when they first started out.
For a young band that has been playing music for over ten years (with several lineup changes), Cuff the Duke’s stage presence and togetherness as a band truly showcases their experience and professionalism. Now a five-piece on stage, this lineup may be their strongest yet. The show’s setlist consisted predominantly of songs from their two most recent releases on Paper Bag Records: Morning Comes and Union, which just dropped in October.
Julie Fader reappeared once more for “Follow Me” and “Rockin’ Chair” – both from Cuff’s 2009 release, Way Down Here (Fader also provided backing vocals on the studio tracks). Petti remarked with a smile that Fader is the “one you call when you need a voice to accompany your own.” Jenn Grant also returned to the stage to provide vocals on “Side By Side” (subbing in for Basia Bulat, who sings on the studio version).
The standout song of the night was “Stay” – a lovely, heartfelt song that Petti had written for his wife, whom he’d just married in February. Also a standout track on Union, “Stay” outshines the studio version in live performance simply from witnessing Petti’s earnestness and sincerity in his delivery.
Cuff the Duke paid homage to their Oshawa roots (where founding members Petti and bassist Paul Lowman grew up) in “Rossland Square.” Amusingly enough, many of the landmarks referenced in the song no longer exist, Petti commented with a chuckle.
The set concluded with the hoedown-esque stomper, “If I Live Or If I Die,” in which Lowman skillfully played the fiddle. In typical audience participation fashion, half the audience was instructed to sing “If I live,” while the rest was to sing, “If I die.”
For their one-song encore, Cuff the Duke, along with Jenn Grant and her entire band, stood arm-in-arm for an unplugged version of “You Were Right.” This being the final show of their double-bill tour, this last song sounded joyous as their voices rose together, but also bittersweet. The camaraderie was apparent as the musicians thanked the audience and bowed in unison. And then they left the stage, to part ways, for new adventures and new tours.