Dueling pianos entertains dozens

Trent Ernst, Editor


Maybe it’s just the town in still on a musical high from Grizfest, but the turnout to Dueling Pianos on August 22 was anemic, to say the least, with a crowd numbering in the tens of digits. (Someone said about thirty, but I think that’s being generous.)

Which is unfortunate, because it was actually an entertaining show. And I say this as one of this town’s biggest musical snobs.

Here’s how it works. Two piano players (whose names I never caught) sit down at a pair of keyboards onstage. At each table, there are pencils and slips of papers. People write down their requests and bring them forward, and the two piano players play those songs. Sometimes, one of the players would play along, either on keyboard or as a virtual drummer. Frequently though, one would play and sing, while the other looked up the next song on their iPad.

Despite the fact the poster advertised “thousands of songs from every genre of music”, the truth was far more … limited. The duo played dozens of songs, but very few were not top forty material.

Being a musical snob, I decided to test the fringes of what they meant by “every genre of music”, requesting classical pieces like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, or even Claire De Lune by Debussy (whose birthday it was that day). Both were tossed to the floor with scorn. “We don’t play that.” Instead, they broke into ‘Benny and the Jets’ by Elton John.

So, looking for something a little more modern, I requested First of the Year by Skrillex. “Sounds like a disease,” was the quip as that paper headed for the floor, in favour of ‘Take on Me’ by Aha.

Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Glory Days’ was fine, but a request for Philip Glass wasn’t even acknowledged. As the evening wore on, it became apparent that this was all about the sing along party piano. The singer would back off from the mic during the “shalalas” in Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and encourage the audience to sing along. And the B-52s’ ‘Love Shack’ came to a complete halt until someone in the audience (your’s truly) shouted out “tin roof, rusted”.

The closest thing to success I registered in my requests was when they took a request for ‘The Blood of Eden’ by Peter Gabriel and played instead ‘Solsbury Hill’. Not exactly what I was looking for, but nice to hear.

They ranged off the beaten track with Asia’s ‘Heat of the Moment,’ (“I haven’t heard that song since grade seven,” quipped the singer), a song by Sublime, and, my favourite moment of the evening, when they played the Arrogant Worm’s ‘Pirates on the River Saskatchewan’.

You could tell which songs they played every night, and which songs were only occasionally dusted off. There were songs they struggled through, and songs they flew through. But all of them were played with gusto and lots of personality, which covered over a multitude of flubbed notes and forgotten lyrics.

The small audience performed their task wonderfully, consuming lots of spirits and singing along to the familiar songs heartily.

In the end, it was almost as advertised: two dudes playing piano requests. Sure, the line about “in every genre” was perhaps overselling it just a bit, but in the end it was fun, and for a show like this, that’s what counts.