Born Ruffians’ confident return to Waterloo

Photo by Jessica Dik
Photo by Jessica Dik

“You do one thing, and then you crave doing something else.”

In 2013, Born Ruffians presented their fans with Birthmarks, a pop record that stood in stark difference to the band’s signature erratic and shout-along indie rock. With cleaner production, catchier hooks and a more realized pop structure, the record saw the band grow to new heights. Their popularity blossomed with the success of the lead single “Needle,” although a segment of their core fan base saw the record as a turn for the worst.

“We won’t allow it to get to us on a deep level, but you’re aware of it … but you can’t please everyone,” said lead singer Luke Lalonde.

Now in 2015, Born Ruffians have lifted their pop filter to reveal the band’s roughened and weathered interior. Their upcoming album RUFF stands as a character foil to Birthmarks, with its organic and raw immediacy paired with introspective, tongue-in-cheek lyricism that explores Lalonde’s relationship with his music, audience, world and himself. A return to form feels appropriate after a prolonged and challenging tour.

“We’re just going to make a rock record, something that we really want to hear and feels good, something that we want to do,” Lalonde said.

Ruffians greeted the audience at Starlight in Waterloo with a familiar acoustic guitar and electronic piano pairing.

“Foxes Mate For Life” from their debut album Red, Yellow & Blue, remains a staple in the eyes of long-term fans, but the initial hoorah of much of the audience dwindled as Born Ruffians swung and jerked through the song. It became obvious the venue was split between long-time listeners and the post-Birthmarks cohort of their fan base.

It’s not a bad thing, but this certainly created an evident shift in audience energy between new and old songs. The effect was certainly seen at the sound of the rolling bass line of “Ocean’s Deep”, as many of the otherwise foot-tapping and arm-crossing onlookers sprung to life at its reverberation.

Despite a divided audience, Born Ruffians proved they have enraptured their entire fan base with the release of “We Made It” the lead single off RUFF. The song’s verses are dominated by witty lyricism by Lalonde as he explores the idea of “making it” as a musician.

The chorus ascends into a signature Ruffian shout-along of “fake it until we make it,” which had the entire venue shaking at every relentless proclamation.

Performances of their other recent releases, “Don’t Live Up” and “When Things Get Pointless I Roll Away” were met with a similar mutual enthusiasm.

When questioned on their idea of success, a central theme of RUFF, Derosier and Lalonde shared that the band had adopted a “dangling carrot” mindset. While short-term milestones have been essential to the band’s success, they learned to avoid insatiable expectations.

“I hope for the best but I expect the worst” said Lalonde.

“There’s never really a stamp where someone says, ‘congratulations, you did life, come on in’ … you just get older and more content.”

The band bode farewell with a swooning rendition of their breakout single “Hummingbird”, followed by an energetic finale that had Lalonde in his familiar tiptoeing bounce and Derosier swinging his drenched curls.

Born Ruffians’ undeniable charisma proved to unite a divided audience. As it stands now, RUFF will serve to bridge the gap in their fan base.


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