The buzzy boys from Menangle prove they've got the chops at their Metro show
It’s a good time for the Rubens: the band’s self-titled debut album landed at number three on the ARIA album chart this week; they’re playing sell-out gigs on their current nationwide tour; and the four guys from Menangle have just announced that they’ll be supporting the Black Keys on the band’s upcoming New Zealand shows. Score, score, double-score.
So when Time Out popped along to see them at Sydney’s heaving Metro Theatre, we were pleasantly surprised that there was still a 'local boys at a local gig’ feel to their biggest city show to date. For 18 months the band has been on a (forgive us) meteoric rise, seemingly doing no wrong with each follow-up single since ‘Lay It Down’ – and reviews of their album have ticked the boxes for ‘catchy’ and ‘credible’. But, unaffected by the hype, bandmates Sam Margin and Scott Baldwin still mingled in the pre-gig crowds catching up with friends. (Adorable!)
Frustratingly, there was a long wait for the headliners following Bertie Blackman’s support set, which finished on a high with a crowd-pleasing performance of ‘Mercy Killer’. After 30 minutes and a lot of tuning/ technical checks – keyboardist Elliott Margin rushing on stage to help – the Rubens walked on to an intriguing hip-hop sample before kicking off with the wisely chosen album track ‘The Best We Got’.
The song’s delicate, tantalising piano intro launched into big drum beats, soothing guitar riffs and the track’s big orchestral arrangement – a successful result of the band's having worked in New York with Grammy-winning producer David Kahne (The Strokes, Regina Spektor). Then, of course, frontman Sam’s deep, soulful voice had the girls captivated.
After the slower-paced but catchy ‘Be Gone’, Sam introduced the band – three of them his brothers – commenting that it was nice to see so many people singing even though many of their tracks hadn’t yet had airplay. The foursome were joined on stage by an older (and keeping to the Rubens’ reputation, foxy-looking) guitarist who wasn’t introduced... another family member perhaps?
Guitarist Zaac, who for much of the gig had a habit of turning his back to the stage, showed a bit of middle- child flare, donning a studded leather jacket throughout the show. And in a special guest appearance, we were introduced to the youngest, cutest member of the family, Jet (affectionately known as ‘Ruben’ – hence the band’s name). He was brought on to play alongside his former music teacher, Ruben's drummer Scott, for the song currently eating up commercial radio airtime, 'My Gun'.
It was a smatly put together set list: they teased out better-known tracks with their new material, like the dreamy ode to 1950s rock‘n’roll ‘Elivis’ (“It gets ea-ea-ea-easier to love you”). Adding to the open-house family theme, Sam invited everyone to join them for drinks later on, before bringing on “Nathan from school” to play the tambourine on their recent hit ‘Don’t Ever Want to Be Found’.
Towards the end of the short set some audience members were getting restless for ‘Lay it Down’, chanting the song title before the band had even made their first stage exit. Thankfully (we feared rioting), the Rubens didn’t disappoint, coming back for a two-song encore, complete with honorary member Jet.
Bar the initial wait, and a set that felt like it was over too quickly, it was a faultless performance from the buzzy young fellas. The Rubens have hit the mark with their clever and seductive combination of just-enough-blues, just-enough-soul, just-enough-indie rock and just-enough-pop. We haven't had just-enough, just yet.