Published Feb 01, 2003While the Weakerthans may have closed this triple bill, fans exhausted from waiting three years for their new album were treated to two acts who had no problem stealing the show. Openers the Fembots have a new release imminent, and at this show the duo of Dave McKinnon and Brian Poirier expanded to a four-piece. Anyone who's witnessed their innovative duo shows, which involve a lot of instrument trading, effects pedals, analog tape delays and plenty of primitive audio toys, might be initially concerned that the Fembots would lose their eccentric charm with a band but this isn't a normal band. Instead, tasteful drummer Mark Hansen (Ron Hawkins' Rusty Nails) and the Weakerthans' Jason Tait (vibraphone, xylophone, musical saw) add the perfect touches to the core of the Fembots, allowing McKinnon and Poirier to stick to guitar and keyboards. Not only does this broaden their musical possibilities, but it also cuts down on instrument swapping and between-song dead air. The new songs are less experimental and more melodic, yet still broken-sounding in the best Sparklehorse/Waits way. At first glance, Cuff the Duke also give a deceptive first impression of a normal country rock band when they're anything but. It's odd that they even get tagged "country" anymore, because other than the occasional two-step rhythm, they're as likely to attempt an intense, orgasmic whirlwind of a closer as they are a soul ballad or new wave interlude. The reason it works is not only their musicality, but their cocky sense of fun and natural on-stage ease. Scrawny singer Wayne Petti was challenging John Samson to arm wrestling by the end of their set physically, both would be in the ultra-lightweight division but Petti may as well have been daring him to match the opening acts.