By Mark Hilton
Photo by Charles “Rain” Black
We should aspire to be like ducks, to paraphrase Michael Caine - calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy beneath. No group knows the difficulty of this better than Winnipeg’s The Duhks, who have undergone a three-year spell of semi-dormancy and momentum-sapping lineup changes. There were no indications of fatigue or strain that such a spell might engender. In fact, for their return visit to CSPS Hall on Sunday, January 18, The Duhks played with the energy of a band reborn.
Perhaps that energy comes down to three recent additions to the band: Percussionist Kevin Garcia who became a Duhk in 2013, guitarist Colin Savoie-Levac, who joined in 2014, and Swedish fiddler Anna Lindblad, whose appearance on the CSPS stage marked her ninth show with the band. All paired perfectly with original members Leonard Podolak (banjo and vocals) and Jessee Havey (lead vocals). The Duhks are a difficult act to nail down, sonically speaking, and they resist efforts to do so. Their style is a mix that starts with folk music as the base ingredient. Then they add in soul, Irish dance and folk music, gospel, old-time, blues, and some Cajun sounds for a blend that is their own.
Their full range of capabilities was on show on Sunday night. “Banjo Roustabout,” the lead track from their latest album, 2014’s Beyond the Blue, started the show in simmering fashion. The band excels in building intensity before providing blissful relief. It wasn’t long before The Duhks showcased one of their best sides and treated the audience to an Irish jig. “Burn,” also from their most recent album, was another early set highlight, and proved that the band is just as comfortable playing a distorted, riff rocker. “Lazy John,” a song that Podolak described as an old Appalachian song, found the band at their upbeat, soaring best. “Death Came a Knockin’” started off with a slinky groove before moving into an ostensible showcase for Savoie-Levac’s phenomenal guitar strumming. The elegiac “Annabel,” featured mournful fiddle playing from Lindblad and Podolak’s gentle banjo (which was frustratingly difficult to pick out of the mix throughout the show), and served as the perfect note on which to end their show.
In front of a nearly full house, The Duhks played with the energy and joy of a band that has emerged from tumultuous times not only unscathed, but also more confident.