It didn't take long for Deuces Wild - a Minnesota-based dueling pianos duo - to have Rugby's American Legion hall roaring with laughter at a Jaycees fundraiser on Nov. 21.
"It's a Thursday in Rugby, but we're gonna party like it's a Tuesday in Towner," said Ted Manderfeld, one of the pianists.
Localized quips like that one, playful teasing of audience members and an array of songs to sing along to built a strong rapport between the musicians and a crowd of about 200.
David Eichholz, left, jokes with Ted Manderfeld during their Deuces Wild dueling pianos show Nov. 21 at the Rugby American Legion Hall. The duo played for a Jaycees fundraiser.
"We've been to North Dakota so many times. I love coming out here," Manderfeld said following the two-and-a-half-hour set. "The people are great. They're very appreciative, they're attentive, they're just fantastic. You can't ask for more."
Made up of Manderfeld, 33, and David Eichholz, 43, Deuces Wild played songs spanning nine decades and often remixed the music with funnier lyrics. The group opened with 'Hey! Baby', a 1961 hit that had audience members joining in. Billy Joel's 'Piano Man' followed, but not without interruptions from one pianist or the other.
Manderfeld and Eichholz shared a strong flashlight for shining on unsuspecting audience members. The pair would stop mid-song to select men and women of all ages to pick on their attire, hairdos and significant others. Deuces Wild even picked on this reporter, lampooning his Mr. Rogers-like sweater and Wolverine-like facial hair.
The big, tough-guy types also got picked on, but the performers made a point to acknowledge that the man they decided to call Justin Bieber could probably beat them up.
Women got a kick out of five men called on stage to learn the dance moves for the Village People's "YMCA", and men were especially amused by "Deer Tags", a hunting parody of rapper Macklemore's 2012 hit "Thrift Shop".
Deuces Wild posted a video of their version on YouTube about two weeks ago and it already eclipsed 48,000 views as of Tuesday.
The group celebrated its 11th year together in October. Eichholz, who played at the Mall of America's dueling pianos bar, toured with another player for four years before partnering with Manderfeld in 2002. The duo played their first show together at the Original Bar in Minot, one of the only locations they've consistently traveled to in their tenure.
"Every other place that we played has changed, we don't do it anymore or we've grown out of it," Manderfeld said. "We just have a little place in our hearts for that place."
The pair first played in Rugby for the Jaycees two years ago. They worked the Pierce County stop in between two nights in Minot, as part of a nine-show tour in 10 days across four states.
They play about 120 nights each year and Manderfeld said they've needed all 11 years to hone the act, which includes a ton of improvisation. Eichholz sucked helium out of balloons to sing "In the Jungle", and Manderfeld spat water all over himself and some front-row audience members. A remixed version of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" was also a hit as the duo made fun of "Flat Bottomed" star Miley Cyrus.
Deuces Wild took a serious tone with a rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." to honor veterans and recognize money also being raised for the Wounded Warrior Project. When not trying to elicit laughs, the pair also showed off an expansive musical repertoire. Eichholz pulled off exciting guitar riffs from classic rock hits and even played the saxophone and a penny whistle. Manderfeld played the harmonica on select numbers, and both played countless tunes on their pianos.
Their range as singers touched on Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi and Tom Petty. The duo routinely praised the liveliness and participation of the Rugby crowd before closing with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'".