It felt like midnight Tuesday at Meijer as Born Ruffians took the Bowery Ballroom stage long after the sun came down, and shortly after I’d had a few (dozen) PBR’s. On this particular Tuesday, the bands’ third LP Birthmarks unveiled itself in concert, and for take out. As one would imagine the boys were in a festive mood. It had the feel of a low-key release party with the band confidently striding through a set of mostly new, intertwined around fan-favorite classics, to keep the sold out crowd frenzied.
The quirky quartet from Toronto doesn’t really take themselves too seriously, even though over the course of almost a decade their music has evolved exponentially. Any band that opens their set with a song called “Badonkadonkey” is to be given some slack in the seriousness department. It was an excellent choice by the way. Throughout their set though, there were traces of a band that’s coming together, forming a catalogue of deeper diversity, while still maintaining that zany dance party vibe. It’s really the perfect kind of show to let loose and kind of act like a fool, while maintaining some indie-pop cred for finding tasty rock goodness in the city.
Birthmarks opens with a remarkable song, the band used to close their set, “Needle” that showcases the bands’ ability to boil their sound into a bare-bones folk croon. The vocals sound eerily like that of the Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, and when the song gains momentum it cascades into a bursting Vampire Weekendish excursion. In fact, there are many times during Birthmarks I feel the channeling of Vampire Weekend, though, without the patronizing hipster-hater circus that comes with ALL THAT stigma. My apologies to Born Ruffians, but I view it as a good thing, a great blend of synth-riffs that crescendo into beautiful worldly sounding harmonization.
Born Ruffians seem to have a firm grasp on their audience. They were greeted with a berserk knee jerk reaction after opening with two classic numbers from their highly acclaimed debut LP Red, Yellow & Blue (2008). Then, they launched into a handful-and-a-half new songs were received well, with the crowd even singing along to the seemingly untested hymns.
Admittedly, after the debut masterpiece, Born Ruffians had kind of dropped off my radar. I missed their follow up, Say It in 2010, which only accounted for two of the performed songs, and didn’t come across Birthmarks until a friend pointed me in the direction. I’m glad he did. And, although the new album isn’t necessarily a classic like RY&B, but it’s certainly a worthwhile listen with a steady dose of quality songs, again, extending the sound and reach of the band.
One particular song, “Cold Pop” drives hard with a synth heavy not-so-subtle sexuality declaring with dubious debauchery, “I’ve got nothing but lust for you…” It takes many twists and turns, without losing its effervescent momentum. I’m also a raving fan of “Rage Flows,” an off-kilter mid-tempo electronic dance-y song that features handclaps, toy sounds, monotone vocal loops and a multitude of timing changes. It’s a ride that I finish, I’m not quite sure what happened, but I feel ultimately I’m better for the experience. I wouldn’t play it at my next house party, but maybe I would—if there were enough drugs. Ingested. People would have to be fucked up for me to have the guts to play this song. Title fulfills prophecy…chuuch.
The encore was another case of embattled perfection. They opened with my favorite Born Ruffians song, “Little Garcon.” It’s just a cute little ditty that starts out as a folk riff, like a more romantic Lumineers, and blossoms into a layered clap along, whirling tambourine, hootenanny, nestling around your heart’s desire. The quintessential set closer is “I Need a Life” which is a rollicking number that senses set perfection as it gains life throughout the song, climaxing on a call and response sing-a-long, bringing the evening to a majestic close. It’s certainly Born Ruffians’ “Everlong.”
Their music has matured, but the dance-crazed fun doesn’t have to. Where’s the after party?
Setlist (I’m 94% confident about accuracy):
2. Kurt Vonnegut
3. I’m One of Those Girls
4. Ocean’s Deep
5. Rage Flows
6. Too Soaked to Break
7. What to Say
8. Merry Little Fancy Things
9. Retard Canard
10. With Her Shadow
11. Cold Pop
12. Barnacle Goose
14. Little Garcon