The historic Rio Theatre in the heart of Vancouver’s east side was sold out on Tuesday, April 2nd. A misting of light rain began to fall as fans of melancholic ambient indie pop music infiltrated the theatre and began vying for seats. They were there to see Australia’s Ry Cuming, who performs under the moniker Ry X. The surfer-singer-songwriter has been on tour since February promoting his newly released second album, Unfurl.
England’s Charlie Cunningham was up first. He sat on a stool in the middle of a stage littered with instruments and equipment used to create and manipulate sound. A single spotlight illuminated him from his right while he delivered a heartfelt acoustic set of flawless fingerpicking.
Cunningham was humble, affable, eloquent, and his set was short and sweet. Though he graced the stage for a mere thirty minutes, he managed to charm the crowd with quips of touring life between musical numbers that showcased his musical prowess and songwriting ability.
“I’m not here to pick a fight. But you can if you like”
Simple, but effective. It’s hard to imagine a better artist to gently prepare a theatre full of people for an evening orchestrated by Ry X.
Ry X strode onto the stage in darkness wearing a fedora, a flowing white tunic, and matching pants. His three bandmates had already taken their places while the spotlight came on, the crowd cheered, and the first progression of chords began to repeat.
Ry X’s live performance is a visual expression of the haunting and emotive music he creates through poetry and ethereal sound bytes.
It’s an immersive experience and one that a few fans had a hard time containing their excitement over. Intermittent catcalls throughout the evening were unexpected, but not uncommon.
One might be surprised at how different a live performance is from the studio recordings. Sounds that come across as faint echos on the recorded versions of his work are catapulted to the forefront during the live show. Instead of remaining background accompaniment to the tenor vocalist’s wail, they become the wave on which it ebbed and flowed.
Ry X acknowledged the crowd for the first time four or five songs into his set. “Hello Vancouver,” he said simply. He’d already played “Yayaya”, the newest single from Unfurl. He spoke about gratitude and gave thanks to everyone for holding space in order to experience the evening together. It was a sentiment that seemed to go over very well with the crowd.
The set was thick with tracks from Unfurl, but he did manage to sneak in a few older tracks like “Berlin” into the mix. At one point the evening looked like it might turn into a rave. Ry X and his bandmates were engrossed in their craft. The bearded Australian was moving back and forth across the stage, looping sounds from two synthesizers while the percussion led a well orchestrated and melodic crescendo.
Soon after, when Ry X announced that he was about to play the last song of the evening, many realized they hadn’t heard some of their favourites yet. There seemed to be an overwhelming sigh of relief (plus a cat call or two) when he started plucking the familiar, simple riff of “Howling”.
When he returned for an encore, a handful of enthusiastic fans inspired him to invite the rest of the room to stand. The audience obliged and swayed together while he played a solo version of “Only” to close out the night. A few even rushed the stage and cut a rug right up close.
It probably wasn’t quite what people were expecting from an artist known for his melancholic, introspective musings, but one thing is for sure – Ry X most definitely facilitated an evening where holding space was respected, and that allowed for a little magic.