Reuben And The Dark: Live At Mills Hardware

Reuben and the Dark

After spending a little time in the Hamilton outskirts on a late Sunday afternoon enjoying music from Melanie Peterson at Clifford Brewing Co., we promptly headed into the heart of the city to catch our final show from this extended weekend visit to ON. Returning to Mills Hardware – one of our favorite live music venues – we were excited to have this opportunity to catch a show from Calgary-born (and now Joshua Tree, CA-based) Reuben Bullock (Reuben and the Dark).  The timing was perfect – our final evening in town would coincide with the band’s final gig in the province, before they pointed their bus west to continue their “Yes Oui Still Tour” string of dates.

Fresh off the heels of his fourth studio album, “In Lieu Of Light,” released last September, Reuben was naturally eager to share the new material, and during a 2-hour, 21-track performance to a packed house, we enjoyed 8 new cuts from this spirited indie-folk-rocker. Long known for his creative, pensive lyrics, spin this latest release a few times and you will soon discover “an element of deeply relatable soul-searching at play – perseverance through darkness, grief, escapism, and a subtle celebration of this despair that we have all confronted (press release).

Reuben and the Dark

“I wrote a lot of these songs just kind of sitting in my living room. I moved to California in the middle of the pandemic. We were on a tour, and we just abruptly stopped, we went in different directions and just stayed in those places for a long period of time,” Reuben shared. “So, it’s an interesting thing playing all of the songs, because they are kind of like time travelers. It feels like I’m checking back in with a lot of these songs that felt like me at the time, and two, three years later, they seem like me again. [It’s] a trippy thing.”

Reuben (guitars/vocals) was joined on-stage by Brock Geiger (guitars/vocals), Sam Harrison (bass/vocals), Clea Anaïs (cello/vocals), and Brendan ‘Dino’ Soares (drums/vocals) – who collectively took the audience on a roller-coaster ride of outstanding new tunes and many popular favorites from their back-catalogue. The only omission (at least for me and my own cravings) was that The Bullhorn Singers would not participate on this evening – although I’m not entirely sure that the stage at Mills could have accommodated any extra bodies, with this five-piece using plenty of the space available. An acknowledgement was made in appreciation of their contributions, however, before a seamless, back-to-back performance of “Little Sunrise” and “Timelapse Clouds.”  If you are unfamiliar with these new tunes, I encourage you to take time and listen to the studio versions – you will be amazed at how special these recordings are, and the stunning harmonies that The Bullhorn Singers bring to them.

Reuben and the Dark

With a whirlwind schedule of 5 shows in consecutive nights, across both QC and ON, Reuben was very open about dealing with the fatigue that follows. “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday. It’s a Tuesday for us. We’re having a perpetual Tuesday thing. It’s crazy. You guys ever go on tour?” he asked. “We’re having a great time. We did a short tour a few weeks ago, and it was fine. Now we’re 5 shows in – of maybe 20 – slept 2 hours in the last 48. Thought I’d share that with you in case anyone here is on tour too, because I know how you feel. And it’s only Tuesday (laughter). But it’s a strange thing how playing music gives you energy though.” And what the tour schedule does not show are the other demands made upon the artist – making an appearance at the Ziigwan Indigenous Music and Arts Festival whilst in Toronto, and time taken to participate in radio and media interviews. Progressing immediately into “Dancer,” the band continued to give it their all, their outstanding talents and professionalism easily masking any obvious signs of fatigue.

Teasing the room with jokes and tales of considering a career as a comedian (the room reacted enthusiastically all evening), Reuben admitted it was likely not his true calling, but did paint an amusing picture for us all about a potential prank. “I thought it would be hilarious that when the band got to the point where we sold out Massey Hall or wherever, and we show up, [that] instead of the band performing, I do a comedy special – just for the very first time ever, telling real jokes in front of people,” he shared. “To have the biggest headlining show the band has ever had, and this comedy special would be funny because that would be the joke. A full audience excited to see us play, and I’m just on a stool doing very entry-level ‘Dad’ jokes.”

Reuben and the Dark

Upon announcing that the band had just two more songs to play, the reaction from the crowd and cries of “no,” “more,” and even “you’re not allowed to leave town” provided Reuben and the Dark the realization that a “shorter show” was out of the question tonight. “Ok, I mean, it’s kind of a discussion. You’ll be surprised how off-script our typical set list is,” Reuben answered. “We can definitely do that. We’re going to play two more songs and if you guys think you want to hear anything else, that’s ok.” Appreciating the feedback, Reuben would jest once more: “I can pull up a notes folder on my phone and we can do three hours of jokes. Be careful what you cheer for.”

With a rousing performance of “Hold Me Like A Fire,” complete with some beautiful (and unprompted) harmonies from the entire room, Reuben was clearly taken aback by the response. “That was going to be our last song, but then you guys sang along, and clapped, and cheered,” he offered. “So, we’ll do a few more songs. What do you want to hear?”  Performing both “Heart In Two” and “Dreaming” – the requests that ‘should’ have ultimately closed the show, the Mills Hardware faithful had also patiently sat out the pandemic, waiting for Reuben to return to their city, and were not done quite yet. Requests emanated from throughout the room, with Reuben responding how he loved “this crowd-sourced set list” – before turning to Brock and asking which of the three most audible requests should be performed. From my own front row space immediately in front of Brock, “Let’s do all three” was clearly heard in response. Even Dino, at the rear of the stage, could be heard adding “All three.” And, naturally, the band delivered, before drawing the evening to its close. 

Spectacular entertainment – our encounter with Reuben and the Dark may have been our first, but will hopefully not be our last.  Safe travels – come back east anytime.

Set List:

  1. Rising
  2. YES
  3. Coming Like A Storm
  4. Wanderer
  5. Dancer
  6. You and I
  7. Traveler Of Swords
  8. All My Friends
  9. Unlove
  10. Little Sunrise
  11. Timelapse Clouds
  12. Bow And Arrow
  13. Trouble
  14. Stay Wild
  15. Hold Me Like A Fire
  16. Heart In Two
  17. Dreaming
  18. Hurricane
  19. Rolling Stone
  20. Weightlessness
  21. Winter’s Widow

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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