Maybe it was the blackberry cider from Capitol Cider across the street, or simply a momentary disorientation from the usual crush of Capitol Hill revelers, but it took a moment to get into Reuben and the Dark’s set Saturday night at Barboza.
The band, fronted by Calgary singer-songwriter Reuben Bullock, finally seemed to get going with “Standing Still,” hard-boiled and buzzing with thick bass, then elegant and redemptive.
Building on that success, “Rolling Stone” turned a cliche title and concept into an earworm you might catch on a TV show montage. Floor toms and a rocking banjo helped the song snarl, and Bullock’s surprisingly elastic voice assured that it eventually soared. Other songs, like “Shoulderblade,” allowed the band to catch its breath and even work in a fun R&B hook.
More people seemed to descend into the basement bar for NO’s set. Maybe it’s the difference between being from Calgary or Los Angeles, or it could be that NO’s frontman, Bradley Hanan Carter, has already seen success with the punk band Steriogram. Either way, there was plenty of energy in the tiny room when NO started its set off with the shimmering pop blitz of “Another Life.”
The band expertly built kinetic energy as the song buzzed along, but for a six-piece guitar rock outfit their sound was suspiciously thin. However, it took just one more song, “What’s Your Name,” for NO’s six members to each assert themselves and contribute to a song that proudly wore its pop sensibilities on its sleeve.
NO slowed things down exactly once, with “So Scared.” Even here, the energy soon picked up and bled over into the bright, snappy burst of “Last Chance,” another tight, smartly crafted song.
There was a lot to like about NO. Perhaps they’re not the most original sounding band and yes, you could probably pick a dozen other bands from L.A. and get something similar. But despite all that or maybe because of it, there was some real charm to their sound. If Reuben and the Dark borrowed a little from post-rock bands like Explosions in the Sky, the influences hewed more post-punk for NO, like on “North Star,” which had a certain Joy Division flair to it that was complimented nicely by Carter’s baritone grumble.
Barboza might be a basement and there are usually tons of marquee acts to choose from on any given night, but Arts & Crafts offered a nice reminder that sometimes it pays to truck down to a tiny venue and catch a few bands you might never have heard of before.
A special apology to The Darcys. We missed their opening set due to a little miscommunication and deeply regret it.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails