BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — One of North Dakota’s favorite musical acts has returned the state for two nights only — the pair of dueling piano professionals known as Deuces Wild. This week, they returned to Bismarck for a two-night double show, bringing their mixture of music and mirth to a packed Belle Mehus Auditorium.
Deuces Wild is typically known as a ‘Dueling Pianos’ act– wherein two separate piano players will attempt to play music back and forth. However, the two individuals behind this act (David Charles Eichholz and Ted Manderfeld) provide their own spin on the idea, and use a mixture of varied genres, multiple instruments, and witty banter to make the evening a lighthearted affair rather than a formal one. In the process, the pair of pianists has played over 2000 shows (including public performances or private shows at weddings, business events, or special dinners), and claim to have never missed a date in over one million miles of travel.
While the duo is met with great crowds everywhere they go, they maintain a special relationship with North Dakota — and likewise, their visits to the Peace Garden State are some of the most anticipated by both fans and Deuces Wild themselves. In this special edition of The Green Room, we spoke to Dave and Ted about their long histories of music, laughter, and unity, and learned exactly what it is that keeps an act like Deuces Wild so strong — and its performers so close with one another — as the years go by.
The story of Deuces Wild’s musical side begins with Dave, who developed a great fascination with the art from an early age. Although he was always a fan of classic rock songs, his skill with the piano was born from an unexpected place.
“I learned out of spite,” Dave jokingly recalls. “When I was four years old, I had a mean red-haired-sister — well, I still do, but I used to, too — who would play songs like Stairway to Heaven and Hey Jude when she came home from school. When she would leave, I would memorize those songs, and learn them on the piano so she could hear me. When she did, she would push me off of the piano and not let me play them until she left for school again. That piano was my first instrument, and continued on from there.”
While spite was a driving force in actually learning to play, it was his love of music that led Dave to begin playing in bands of every genre (from heavy metal to country) — and according to the man himself, it was during his time touring as a keyboard player in a show band that he took an interest in his current career. While performing at one of the many clubs inside the Mall of America, he was approached by representatives from a dueling piano bar in the building, who urged him to apply for an opening at their establishment. After doing just that, he would have a stint playing in the Mall, before eventually once again hitting the road with a touring act. It was here that he encountered Ted — who quickly became enamored with the style of performance and sought to also become a dueling piano showman.
“In 2002, the guy Dave was working with was planning to leave,” Ted recalls, “and I had just graduated college at Concordia in Moorhead. I saw them playing at the bar right next to the place I was working, booking airline tickets for a now-defunct airline. I walked out of my job and went over to audition. Dave said that I wasn’t right for the show, and the other guy said I had what it took to do it. From there, I literally quit my job and followed them around until they hired me.”
Despite this initial situation, Dave and Ted hit if off rather well, and the two decided to partner up to go into business as a duo. Their mutual experience with music, combined with their love of improvisation, led to the birth of Deuces Wild: a show that fuses the classical art of dueling pianos with standup comedy, multiple genres of music, and audience participation. It’s worth noting that Pianos aren’t the only instruments on display at a Deuces Wild concert, however — Ted and Dave are each skilled in a massive variety of instruments, many of which (including the harmonica, saxophone, and acoustic guitar) also see plenty of use during their shows. The same can be said for their knowledge of different genres, and over the course of a show, one can hear everything from country music to patriotic salutes to our soldiers to famous hits like Bohemian Rhapsody, and even more recent pop singles like ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber. This array of instruments and genres is also a hallmark from their early years, and likewise, the ability to switch between them is a result of their experience.
“At one time, I was in both a heavy metal band and a mom-and-pop country band at the same time,” Dave states. “I got a saxophone in college, and my roommates hated hearing me play it so much that I had to drive down the road and practice under a bridge.”
“The genres all start to overlap over time,” explains Ted. “As the great Quincy Jones said, there’s only twelve notes in the scale of the musical world, and it’s unbelievable that all the music in our western world is based on those. Learning to play different songs and genres is all just a matter of rearranging those notes.”
The duo’s love of music, however, goes far beyond just their time as Deuces Wild. In addition to his experience with bands like City Pretty and Rave On!, Dave has appeared on Swedish television, been featured in WorldTraveler Magazine, and recorded and produced the soundtrack for the 1996 video game Prime Target. Ted, meanwhile, has also published his own CDs, produces Billy Joel and Elton John tribute shows, and worked as everything from a jingle writer to a song producer (in addition to more bizarre careers such as game show host and actor). The art of song is something that is deeply ingrained in both members of the group’s veins, and one that encompasses every aspect of their lives.
“It’s one of the few pleasures that makes life worth living,” says Ted. “It’s the essence of our humanity, it really is.”
“To me,” Dave states, “music is life. When I was a kid, it wasn’t just music — I loved sports and dirt bikes and chasing girls, but music was what I was best at. Music is also longevity — it’s going to be around longer than I will. Everything in our soul has music in the background, or the foreground.”
Of course, as passionate and powerful as the group’s devotion to it is, music is only half of the act in question. As opposed to a more classical variant of Dueling Pianos, Deuces Wild is well-known for their use of standup comedy and parody in their musical sessions — frequently making dirty jokes, taking jabs at one another, ridiculing members of the audience, and putting their own humorous spins on popular songs (‘Country Roads’, for example, becomes ‘Winter Roads’ – a satirical tune about the infuriatingly cold climate of North Dakota). While at times these actions can come off as shocks to those unfamiliar with their brand (many of whom could simply be expecting a typical Dueling Pianos act), this unexpected edge is one that both serves to make theirs a unique offering amongst the crowd and adds an air of lighthearted fun and uniqueness to every performance.
“If you have seen us before,” Ted told KX in an earlier discussion, “then you know that every night is different. The audience pretty much controls the second half of the show. And if you haven’t, come out and give us a chance. Expect a lot of music, a lot of comedy, and a lot of spontaneity. If you’re going to come out and see the show, we’re going to get you to laugh and be silly.”
With how long they have been performing this sort of comedy, though one can only imagine that tensions would normally begin to rise between the duo as they compete against one another, or even as a result of their constant closeness — but reportedly, this is most certainly not the case between Dave and Ted. As the two make clear, despite how they speak to one another during their shows, they are true companions, and more like brothers than anything else. If anything, they state, these years of partnership have actually allowed them to improve their ability to play off of one another, both musically and comedically. With a better understanding of how each of them works, Ted and Dave say they can quickly bounce off one another and cover their companion when they need more time to develop another side-splitting line.
“It’s patience and trust,” explains Dave. “Sometimes, for me, it helps to just be quiet and let Ted go. He’ll start improvising, and if there’s something funny for me to jump onto, I’ll do it. In those years of working together, you really learn how your partner thinks, and can use that to learn how to play off of one another.”
“The same can be said vice-versa,” notes Ted. “It’s having a sense of knowing when the other guy is on to something, or even if they’re just fishing for something that isn’t quite there yet. That’s how something that we see in the show becomes a part in the show — it may be rough in the beginning, but that’s the same way that it works for most standup comedians. You start with an idea, and then you just keep whittling it down until you find the meat and potatoes of that bit.”
Even when these comedic segments come at the expense of a viewer, however, the duo states that nothing is ever done out of malice. Rather, their crass and spontaneous style is one designed to both bring audiences into the show and lighten up the room by focusing on individuals willing to go along with the joke.
“Years of practice help you learn to know who can take a good ribbing and who can’t,” Dave states.
“It’s also important to set up an atmosphere where people know that there’s no ill intent behind those ribbings,” Ted continues. “Everything we do is in good-natured fun, and we’re all here to just laugh and have a good time. The other piece of that is being self-deprecating — we insult ourselves just as much, earlier, and more often.”
Audiences and Appreciation
It is most certainly a passion for music and comedy that began the duo’s journey, but it’s the love of their fans that has kept it going for so long. While neither Ted nor Dave are actually from the Peace Garden State, they find themselves frequently returning to ND — both to remain close to their roots, and as a direct result of the overpowering support from their North Dakotan fans. The two’s first show as a pair took place in Minot, and both members of Deuces Wild report that the state’s audiences are some of their favorites to perform for due to a combination of their excellent sense of humor and the immense gratitude they show towards visiting acts. In a previous article announcing the duo’s return, Ted spoke about his love for the appreciative and intelligent audiences of the state — but notes that of all of their many stops through ND, Bismarck is one of their favorites.
“Unless we’re playing for a private party,” Dave explains, “we only play at the Belle Mehus in Bismarck. It’s one of our favorite shows to play — the audience is electrifying. The energy is fantastic here, and it’s consistent, too. Maybe it’s just because it’s a little further away from the rest of the world out here.”
“This is a benchmark that I use for theaters all over the country that we play,” Ted states. “The crowds are smart, they get comedy, and they appreciate the music. These are our people, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
On multiple occasions during each of their shows, Ted and Dave tend to call for group drinks, and throughout the night, both they and the audience raise glasses to music, jokes, or simply the joy of being together during the evening. This time around, we like to think that these drinks are a toast to their many years of performing together for the people of North Dakota — as well as all of the times that they’ll be returning to the state in the future.
“Thank you, North Dakota,” both members of Deuces Wild state, “for being our best friends for the last 21 years. Thank you for letting us come in and entertain you… it’s been an honor to do it.”
If you missed Friday night’s show, there’s still time to catch Dave and Ted in action: they’ll also be playing tonight at the Belle Mehus auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available, and can be purchased either at the door or by using this link. The performance will also feature the blues music of Joshua Kloyda as an opening act.
Over the next six months, Deuces Wild will be performing multiple shows — not only in ND, but all throughout the Midwestern United States. To learn more about the duo or find out where they’ll be playing next, visit their website here.