Every now and then there are those moments when all things just seem to align. For example: Mexican food when you're hungry, cold beer when you're thirsty, a breeze when you're hot and a cigarette when you're needing. These are of course all very simple things, but when they all come together at once there is an inexplicably euphoric feeling. Imagine the surprise then, when as all these events do come together, I'm also treated to the Ruby Suns' second trip to Austin in a month's time. The New Zealand trio have also allowed for that rare occasion when you can see a band (luckily) at SXSW, give yourself some time to really let them sink in, and then just happen to have them stop back in on your town so that you may utilize your newfound fanaticism. This was the case with last Friday's gig at Mohawk, supporting Throw Me The Statue.
Scoping out a spot just left of center stage, I was immediately concerned for drummer/guitarist/frontman Ryan McPhun's set up. His two standing drums looked to be in fine shape, but his third stand (holding a electronic drum pad) was teetering dangerously close to the edge of Mohawk's inside stage. A dicey placement though it was, I figured he probably had a good idea of what he was doing and I kept my thoughts to myself (this would later come back to haunt the set).
Starting off with the tender, soothing chimes of "Ole Rinka" with McPhun's uneasy falsetto gliding over the crowd, and we were treated right off to one of my favorite tracks off the newest album; a perfect introduction to what Ruby Suns and their sophomore release (Sea Lion) are all about: charming quirk with a tendency to bust out in a tropical dance party.
The set would continue on from there, with McPhun as the standout of the show, starting off a simple loop, strumming his six-string then flinging it behind him to throw down a mean drum fill on his crude set-up or on his electronic pad. Nowhere was this showcased better than on "Kenya Dig It?" (song title of the year?). Robinson contributed her part to the joy as well with her moment in the vocal spotlight on "These Are Birds," and keyboardist/sometimes bassist/sometimes flautist Imogen Taylor nicely rounded out the fun.
The only trouble of the night really, came while trying to have a go at the cheerful "Oh, Mojave," when halfway through McPhun seemed put off and set his guitar down. The crowd, none the wiser, watched as he ran off stage momentarily only to pop back on during a Robinson/Taylor drum interlude. He took the mic and politely asked the venue, "Does anybody have a guitar?" We all confusedly, but with equal politeness returned with resounding shakes of our heads. "Ok, well hold on," he continued as he jumped off stage again, only to return once more as Taylor and Robinson's drumming finally petered out, their faces wearing awkward smiles. McPhun would go on to explain that he broke a string on his guitar, which thanks to the tremolo somehow threw every other string out of tune in the middle of the song. We in the crowd just sort of gawked with no real bearing on what he was talking about, but were sad nonetheless because "Oh, Mojave" is such a great track.
Handling the whole mess with ease, the trio busted into another number, this time off their first, self-titled album. Midway through that song a guitar was placed at the back of the stage, and McPhun's eyes lit up at the possibility of salvaging the remainder of the set.
"We're going to try and play you the second half of that song," Robinson stated with delight as she and Taylor resumed their drumbeat. McPhun strummed aloud and worked up another beat on his drum pad. It seemed as if they were making a decent run at finally finishing the song when McPhun's frenzied kicking at his electronic kick drum knocked over his drum pad, falling over onto his looper stopping the drum loop, hitting the nearby sampler and starting a new sample. The result was just a complete and utter skid in the road. "Guess you're not meant to hear that song," Robinson confessed. I suppose that's the drawbacks of having to rely so heavily upon electronic backing - when done right it's fascinating, but when one thing goes wrong, everything else tends to follow.
It wasn't a total loss though, the trio treated the situation with charm and grace (as graceful as you can treat the near destruction of your equipment), and even gave the crowd a chuckle or two here and there with anecdotes on our glorious city's various swimming holes, the ongoing problems with nuclear submarines in Kiwi waters, and Amee Robinson's sequined dress (apparently bought for a cancelled Las Vegas gig). They ended the show with optimism despite the few setbacks, and I think in the face of the one unfinished song, Ruby Suns put on a damn fine show.