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SLCR #327: Reuben and the Dark (November 2, 2018)

Here’s a surprise bonus review because I need to generate Content to maintain the Perception of my Brand. And because I’m getting good at remembering to check the Facebook pages of Regina media outlets a few days before any concerts that I wouldn’t mind going to for free. Thank you, CJTR, for sending me to this show because I commented “Comment!” when you asked for a comment. I’m glad my hard work paid off.

With Mika still tied up with school, I sought out the newly-retired Other James (retired from work, I mean – he’s still James) to join me as my +1. I looked up the start time when inviting him, and it was good I did, because I’d have wound up sad and lonely at the Exchange when this show was actually at Westminster United Church. I also had to look up the location of the church, and that was also good, because I learned you can give churches Google reviews. The best by far was a two-star review, saying “it’s ok if that’s what you’re into.”

Other James and I were to meet at “8-ish,” and I would have been there right at 8:00, but there’s a candy store across the street so I had to stop and browse. With treats acquired, we met in the lobby, the ticket folks found my name on the list, and we were inside. It’s a very nice looking church. At least a 3 out of 5. As a concert venue, it has some of the drawbacks that you’d expect from a church – few washrooms, no food or drinks. They should have had old ladies in the basement selling funeral specials – ham sandwiches with one slice of ham on buttered (well, margarined) bread, cut into quarters and served with sweet pickles, slices of marble cheese, watered down orange drink, and date squares.

I knew nothing about either Reuben and the Dark or openers nêhiyawak, apart from having heard their names before. I had a little more than 24 hours between winning the tickets and the show starting, but chose not to seek out any of their music and just enjoy the show as a brand new experience. Doesn’t that sound nicer than saying “I started off ignorant, became aware of my ignorance, and decided to remain ignorant?”

nêhiyawak is a three-piece from Edmonton – guitar, drums, and synthesizers. The synths in particular give them a unique sound, driving some songs while adding a dreamy edge to others. The trio are all of Plains Cree ancestry and sing songs that draw on that history. It wasn’t always easy to make out the lyrics, so I wound up relying on the singer’s explanations as to the songs’ meanings. It was a short set, but powerful and compelling – the kind of music that I suspect is best experienced live. And probably in a smaller venue – Other James said he’d seen them at the folk festival this summer, but thought this was a better showcase for them.

Reuben and the Dark are a five-piece from Calgary. The lead singer is, in fact, Reuben, though the other guys didn’t look particularly Dark. Reuben was clad in all white, so I guess they were kind of darker by comparison. Also, he’s a brave man who clearly eats more neatly than I do.

Whereas nêhiyawak had the synths as a differentiator, if I can use obnoxious business words, Reuben and the Dark had great vocal harmonies that stood out for me. All five had mics and the harmonies added warmth to songs that were already great on their own.

Like I said, I was going in blind, but one song, Rolling Stone (not THAT one) (or that other one) seemed so familiar to me. Either I’ve heard it before, enough to know it, or it’s just one of those songs that feels like an old favourite from the first time you hear it. There were a few other songs that sounded a little recognizable, so I’m assuming Mika played them in the car at some point. And the first song of the encore was a cover of Bobcaygeon, which was really well done. The band recorded and released the song as a single, donating the profits to the Downie Wenjack Fund. So, if you have a spare $1.29 in iTunes credit and want to direct whatever fraction of that to a good cause, you could do worse.

Reuben is a charismatic fellow, holding the audience’s attention with songs and stories, or leading the crowd in song. A few times, he walked up and down the church aisles, crouching down to sing directly to individuals (including one very appreciative young fan in the front row). The last song of the night was done entirely off-mic, capping off a great evening and making the small venue feel even more intimate.

This was the kind of concert I love, where you go in with no expectations and leave with a new favourite. Great songs, killer harmonies, and a really enjoyable show. I left humming their songs and next time, I won’t rely on luck to get me in the door. By which I mean I’ll buy a ticket, but it sounds pretty underwhelming when you put it that way.

For the most part, I thought the sound in the church was pretty good. I thought the mix was a little better for Reuben and the Dark and I had an easier time hearing what he was saying than with nêhiyawak, though a few songs in, someone up on the second level yelled to turn the snare drum down. Everyone laughed and this became a recurring theme throughout the evening, with Reuben later checking in about the volume of the snare, and later saying that Bobcaygeon would have benefitted from a little more of it. Though when Other James was chatting with the sound tech on the way out, she said that the snare really did come through excessively upstairs. Maybe Mr. Two-out-of-five had a balcony seat.

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