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From wolf shirts to obscene moustaches, tinted glasses to tattered plaid, irony is the prevailing doctrine of an ‘indie culture’ which has taken North America by storm. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that generations of folks who grew up engrossed by television’s endless stream of sitcoms choose to hide behind the veil of ironic detachment: sarcasm is a second language to most. Irony offers us protection and safety– she grins condescendingly at her obnoxious and ill-tempered younger brother, Candor, who never ceases to embarrass her with his unabashed giddy excitement. Thankfully, there are a few indie bands choose to embrace a more emotive and honest approach to song: the Born Ruffians, who came to Sugar Nightclub on Friday night, are one such band.
The evening began as Sheezer, an all female Weezer tribute band, took the stage. At first, it seemed odd that the Born Ruffians chose to bring a cover band with them for the Western half of their cross-Canada trek, but all reservations were assuaged by the time Sheezer ripped into “My Name is Jonas”. Those crammed into the packed dance floor soon became a loud and drunken choir, belting out Rivers Cuomo’s juvenilia (for the band mostly drew from Weezer’s first two albums) with tremendous gusto. Many wept as they sang the chorus of “Say It Ain’t So”, a soundtrack for many a nineties break up, I’m sure.
All four members of Sheezer were obviously having a great time as they played their short set. While the band stayed true to the albums, and the songs would have benefited from more interpretation, less dictation, they were received well and definitely got the crowd involved— at one point, the band went so far as to invite a few fans onto the stage to join them for a song. After a group hug, Sheezer gave up the stage to the evening’s headliners.
The first thing we noticed as the Ruffians took the stage was that the band has added an extra player, multi-instrumentalist Andy Lloyd, to their roster for this tour. Lloyd provides an exciting sense of balance to a band that has tended toward rhythmic dominance in the past. If the Born Ruffians’ new album “Say It” is any indication, their sound is moving in a more melodic direction, and they will increasingly rely on Lloyd’s atmospheric flourishes to compliment lead singer/guitarist Luke LaLonde’s thin guitar tones and frantic wails.
Also immediately striking was LaLonde’s composure throughout the set as his vocal acrobatics are anything but. Indeed, LaLonde seems to be a shy and reluctant conduit for the voice of an inner child who isn’t sure if he wants sandwiches or sex, choosing to demand both just to be sure. Such is a voice that might be more suited to the body of Ruffians bass player, Mitch Derosier, who bounded around the stage like a madman for the entirety of the set, at one point tripping on an amp in all his bombast.
That being said there were also times during the show when the voice became a more tender incarnation of the inner child, as it confessed a rather homey and domestic desire to simply cook a meal for “ma and pa and grandmama” (Hedonistic Me), or to follow love wherever she happens to lead him (Little Garcon). The voice is delightfully childlike in both its ADD-induced demands and its transparent vulnerability, a refreshing change from hip indifference.
And those who gathered at Sugar on Friday night managed to serve two masters (realizing, by the end of the night that they are, of course, one and the same). We certainly obeyed the demanding child’s plea to dance without worrying about how silly we looked, but we also took heed of a more tender voice, a voice that begs us to put our arms around the ones we love and sway to the most tender of love songs. On Friday night, we were truly able to engage a more genuine, and at the risk of sounding naïve, sentimental side of ourselves which is often tragically neglected in an ironic world. For that, we owe much to the Born Ruffians.