It’s hard to believe that Reuben & the Dark were signed only a year ago to Arts & Crafts in this very room. Judging by the long lineup that snaked its way from the Gateway down to the C-Train station before the doors officially opened, you could be forgiven for thinking that the gospel-tinged, folk pop quintet have been one of Calgary’s mainstays for years. If anything, this homecoming show, part of a larger North American tour with labelmates NO and the Darcys, solidified Reuben & the Dark’s meteoric rise to prominence on the strength of their immaculate songwriting and relentless touring.

Los Angeles’ NO opened the night, setting the mood for the show with their expansive, layered sound. The young band has been making a name for themselves with their romantic pop, channeling front man Bradley Hanan Carter’s heartbreak into songs that hinge on catharsis and release. On their debut full-length, El Prado, they’ve mastered the build-and-release of yearning, using tension to construct enormous cathedrals of sound before crashing it all down around you. Onstage, however, they seemed unable to replicate the same emotion, often sounding flat and meagre, robbing their aesthetic of its primary focus. Carter pranced around onstage in his best imitation of NO’s British rock influences, but failed to engage the audience, many of whom were patiently waiting for the headlining act.

Toronto’s the Darcys followed, the most veteran band on the bill. The headliners for the rest of the tour, they wasted little time in getting the packed venue dancing. The Darcys presented a more straightforward sound than on previous tours, where their weirder aesthetics garnered them attention from across the country, preferring instead to push forward bathed in a huge light show and explosive sound. It was easy to get lost in Jason Couse’s performance as he led the four-piece through a tight, well-orchestrated set, bouncing between keyboards and guitar, twisting his voice around the microphone with lithe ease.

There’s an easy charm to Reuben Bullock, even during the band’s most brooding moments. As he set up for the band’s homecoming set, their first in Calgary in months and only one before their full-length debut in May, he seemed comfortable in front of an adoring full house. Indeed, the entire band moved as if a single unit — doubtless, a habit picked up from their constant touring this past year — and seamlessly eased into the set, which featured a mix of reworked older songs and brand new compositions. Their sound has grown along with their career — the band sounds almost nothing like Bullock did on Man Made Lakes — turning up the gospel and pop influences and favouring a sleeker, more produced sound. Fan favourites like “Bow and Arrow” took on a new lease, a far cry from the single acoustic guitar on which it was written, while cuts off Funeral Sky, like “Devil’s Time,” gave a glimpse into the bright future for Reuben & the Dark. Their set was short, too short, but warmly received nonetheless. We may not have much longer to call Reuben & the Dark wholly our own as the band makes the transition to Toronto, but we can always remember those magical shows we shared on the way up.

Words and photos by Sebastian Buzzalino


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