Show Review: TFDI with Riley Etheridge & Michael Kang at Cafe du Nord, 8/21/2011

by Stacy Scales on August 23, 2011

A little over two years ago, some friends and I went to see Tony Lucca at the Hotel Utah. He was playing with two dudes we’d never heard of before: Jay Nash and Matt Duke. Matt opened, and before he’d finished the first song all three of us were staring at him, transfixed (and okay, maybe a little surprised as well). Our reactions to Jay were similar, and of course we already knew we loved Tony’s music too. As the tour progressed, it didn’t take them long to realize that their fantastic chemistry shouldn’t go to waste. By the time they reached SPACE in Chicago, they were harmonizing their way through each other’s set lists, two of them flanking the third songwriter as he took center stage. They decided to record a 4-song EP, and somehow the whole project was dubbed “TFDI.” (More on that later.)

Though all three guys maintain healthy solo careers, it’s clear from their show Sunday night at San Francisco’s Cafe du Nord that they thoroughly enjoy the times they get to share the stage together. When the doors opened at 7, I was one of many with bells on, ready to absorb as much musical love as they’d care to shower me with.

It’s no big secret that when you’re really excited to see an artist or a band that you really love, you sometimes don’t even want to give the opening act a chance at all. When Riley Etheridge took the stage (with accompanist Michael Kang on violin and mandolin – the only guy Riley knows of who can play the mandolin in the impressive F sharp), I was feeling generous enough with my attention to give him a chance, and mercifully I was rewarded with a great set. It started with the title track to his album, Things I Used to Know, after which he explained to the crowd that he wanted the evening to feel like a Sunday night in someone’s living room – we’ll tell stories, he’d play music, we’d have a good time.

The next song was called “The More I Learn, The Less I Know” and is about parenting, as Riley humbly admitted, following it up with “He Said, She Said,” a song about “living in a glass house.” Next he told a story about one of the great things about living in New York City (Battery Park City, to be specific) was the inspiration he got from the free salsa concerts nearby. He recalled a time he witnessed an elderly couple that looked to be in their 80s or even 90s that he thought might need some assistance. To his astonishment, they got up and “danced the meanest tango” he’d ever seen. He was touched by their skill and their love for each other, so inspired that he wrote “They Still Dance,” which was the next song of the evening.

Though my suspicions that the crowd was full of TFDI fans would later be confirmed, it was also apparent that a sizable portion of people were familiar with Riley as well. As he began “Nobody’s Hero,” he asked someone to text his girlfriend to let her know that he was dedicating the song to her, hoping she’d know that she was on his mind even while they were apart. He followed it up with another story, this time about the time he took his 4-year-old daughter to Disney World, where she proceeded to have a major meltdown at the sight of the characters. The only solution he could find to not losing all the money he’d poured into their 5-day passes was to take her back in the evenings, after the characters had left for the day, to watch the fireworks. His daughter is now of age, and they were recently in the same area, high above the city somewhere having martinis, when they saw those same fireworks. The song, aptly named “Fireworks,” is about the time between the fireworks. Riley’s final song was called “Arrogance of Youth,” with the memorably ironic lyric, “sadly wisdom only comes with surviving the arrogance of youth.”

Thankfully, I didn’t have long to wait restlessly before Matt, Tony, and Jay took the stage. They opened the set as they open When I Stop Running, with “Stranger in a Strange Place,” on which Matt sings the lead. (Both the album and the set list have the guys taking turns singing leads, one song at a time.) Up next was “The Hurtin’ Kind” with Tony on lead, followed by Jay’s lead and title track, “When I Stop Running.” After “Hold on Tight,” Tony told the story of getting “matching” tattoos with his wife that say “forever everyday,” thus leading into the song titled the same.

Jay shared a dream he’d had during the band’s first tour (before they technically were a band at all), saying that the majority of their songs were written in Chicago two summers ago. In his dream, he was invisible and somehow also able to walk through walls. The next day, he told the others about it, only to realize that the implication was that he was, in fact, dead. They played “If I Was a Ghost” and finished to a silent room. Seconds later, someone broke the ice and the applause began, but Jay didn’t miss a beat, telling us, “you guys handled a song about death really well!” Matt said he was continuing a theme, in a way, as they began “Heaven with a Broken Heart,” after which Tony and Jay left the stage for him to play a few songs of his own.

I must admit, I’m a fan of all three of these guys, but it’s Matt in particular I was really excited to see last night. Since I last saw him in August of 2009, this is his very first visit back to San Francisco. He talked about the beautiful weather compared to his home in Philly, and later swore that he doesn’t come to California as often as he should because he’s afraid he’ll want to stay. He played “Tidal Wave” before offering the crowd a choose-your-own-adventure style choice in what he’d play next: something upbeat, or middle of the road? Though I thought I heard “upbeat!” as the resounding answer, he played “MLT” from One Day Die, which seems to be anything but upbeat.

As Jay and Tony came back to the stage, Jay explained that “Sweet Talking Liar” (from his album The Things You Think You Need) was about wishing a friend well, after which they played “Darlin’ I” from Tony’s Canyon Songs. Matt then said, “I tried to go to college” and paused, at which point the audience laughed. He shrugged and agreed, admitting, “that’s the punchline.” The next song, “Sex and Reruns,” from his Kingdom Underground album, was about the quality time he spent at college.

Jay’s little solo set came next as he told us that he brought a sweatshirt just for San Francisco. He knew he wouldn’t need it at any other point in the tour, but he was excited to wear it on our chilly evening. Then he told a story about a girl he fell instantly in love with. He confessed, “I love you.” Her reply, he said, was “I really didn’t ask you…” Naturally, the crowd laughed with him, and then he began “Till I Get Through,” which he wrote just before that woman, now his wife, gave birth to their daughter. Someone in the front of the crowd requested “Free Bird,” which Jay jokingly began to play before insisting that that was the downturn of the evening, telling him, “don’t be that guy! You’re better than that” and saying that from that point on, he was only ever allowed to yell that out at Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts. He finished his solo bit with a song called “River Siren.”

As the others joined him back onstage, Jay explained how the band came to be: he and Tony were mutual admirers who wanted to tour together, and in 2009 one of their managers found Matt to open for them. By his second song, they loved him…but they still made him sleep on the floor, Matt interjected. “You gotta pay your dues, rookie,” Tony joked. Jay admitted he doesn’t think he was a part of the decision of the naming of the album or the band, but when it came out and he saw that it was called TFDI, all three of them had a good laugh. Next they played a song that they say was one that started it all on that tour, “Slow it Down,” followed by “Pretty Things,” both of which are on their TFDI EP.

Finally, Tony gave us a little solo action as well, beginning with “Anchored,” after which he thanked the crowd for supporting live music and invited us all to stop by the “merch-a-palooza” in the back after the show. He began crowd favorite “Death of Me” just by singing the first few words and then stepping away from the microphone to let the crowd sing while he played the guitar. It was at that point that I realized I was enjoying myself more than I can remember having done at a show in any recent history. When the others came back out, they played their brilliant cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” during which Matt insists he pulled a groin muscle as they goofed around on stage kicking like a short line of showgirls. (Jay said, “I told you to stretch!”)

When they played “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” you literally could have heard a pin drop. This is what I love about Matt Duke – he has more soul in his little finger than I could ever hope to have in my entire body, and there really aren’t words to describe the sound that comes out of him, except to say that it’s literally mesmerizing. I honestly don’t know how the guy manages to make it off the stage at the end of the night – it seems he leaves absolutely everything he has (heart, soul, guts, and then some) on the stage. It’s a very rare thing to witness, and one of the reasons I whine so much about the fact that he plays anywhere near here so infrequently. As they began to wrap up their set, they asked everyone to sign their mailing lists and stay in touch, appropriately going into their cover of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

About sixty seconds later, they were back on the stage, saying that they suck at encores because they’re afraid to wait too long. Though all three returned together, Tony and Jay stayed on either side of Matt and let him play a song of his own that they love that’s not a TFDI song, which was “Rabbit.” After, he asked them if they were done taking their break, and Tony spoke of his favorite souvenir from San Francisco once, which he called a “humble brag:” he was outside a club having a cigarette in the rain when a homeless woman bummed a smoke, complaining about the weather. He answered, “true dat,” which gave her pause. She asked him where he was from, he answered that he was from “all over.” Her reply? “Oooh eee, Lucifer, eat your heart out!” He dedicated “Foxy Jane” to her, and then Jay told a story of a time when he stopped at a Starbucks in LA when a homeless woman called out to him. It took him about four times before he realized she was yelling, “you married?” to him. They sang Jay’s “Oogly Boogly,” before finishing with a grand singalong version of The Band’s “The Weight.”

As they’d been doing all night, they joked about the name of their band, proclaiming once again that they couldn’t tell us what it meant, but “you can google it!” After they finished, they stuck around a while to chat and sell their music and merchandise. Matt promised he’d be back soon (which, I must admit, I’m hesitant to believe, knowing that musician “soon” is far from the rest of the world’s soon). Whatever it means, there’s one thing I’m sure: I’m totally fuckin’ diggin’ it. And if in fact it does take them another two years to get themselves together in a city near me, at least I’ll have the memories of last night’s amazing show to keep me warm.

Stacy Scales

California native. Word nerd. Music lover. Linguaphile. Amateur foodie. Basketball junkie. Travel enthusiast. Future therapist.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. Matt Duke August 23, 2011 at 7:46 pm

That had to be the best review of a Matt Duke performance that I ever read! Although I was not at that particular show, I totally agree that he does leave EVERYTHING on that stage before he gets off of it and that I can’t describe what I feel when I hear him (I mean, it’s obvious that I named myself Mrs. Matt Duke because I think he’s the absolute best!). I believe he’s the angel that created music and decided to come down to earth during our generation to spread the love :). OK, I skimmed to see what you said about Matt…I’ll read the rest of the article now. LOL 🙂 🙂


Andi Galusha August 25, 2011 at 7:54 am

I always enjoy this writer’s articles because she makes you feel like you are right at the show! I’m off to buy some more music!


Violet August 27, 2011 at 2:18 am

Great review! For those would could not attend the show, I have a lot of HD video of the L.A. Hotel Cafe show at my YouTube channel, including “Pretty Things,” “Oogly Boogly,” “Rabbit,” “Slow It Down,” “The Weight” and others. Here’s “American Girl.”


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