Born Ruffians are the Canadian-bred indie rock band best known for songs like “Needle” and “Hummingbird”, but on Wednesday night they proved to New York City that they’re capable of far more than a couple of jangly pop songs. Opening with “Kurt Vonnegut”, frontman Luke Lalonde wailed into the microphone while bassist Mitch Derosier played so hard he ended up breaking a string. The crowd at the Bowery Ballroom was enormously appreciative, whooping and hollering through their entire set. For those unfamiliar with their sound, they’re upbeat without being overbearing and just aggressive enough to make it count, shown most aptly when they performed “(Eat Shit) We Did It”, complete with an acoustic guitar. They’re confident and self-assured, almost to a fault – Lalonde’s voice sounds much harsher in person than it does recorded, and if you’re paying close attention it can nearly make you cringe. He fell flat on the refrain of “Needle”, and as he failed to hit the high notes the strain on his vocal chords was painfully audible. Born Ruffians are not natural performers; it’s clear they have to work at it. Despite this, they were loud, potent, and downright catchy – all the makings of a solid rock concert.
Kicking off the show was a band called Young Rival. Right before the trio stepped onstage, a mysterious figure shrouded in a glittery cape pulled the sheets off of two large screens, revealing the band’s name in a glowing blue font. Young Rival themselves sported sequined gold jackets which, according to the bass player, had just arrived from China a few days prior. Also Canadian, every member of the group had a microphone and their collective voices sounded more surfer rock than brute indie force. Their songs moseyed along, blending together in a forgettable mesh of weak bass lines and unimpassioned lyrics. Fake flowers decorated the stage and adorned their mic stands, only adding to the impression that these guys care more about cheap gimmicks than any type of musical technique.
Born Ruffians only played one song for their encore, but perhaps that was all we needed. It wasn’t exhausting to watch them because they weren’t bad, but it wasn’t exhausting to watch them because they weren’t great either. Their middle-of-the-road alternative sound certainly has appeal, as the horde of dancing bodies in front of the stage made obvious. Their songs are varied enough to keep you interested, but only until you realize that there are other bands out there pushing the limits in ways that Born Ruffians could only dream of.