Utopia: an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.

For a few brief hours on Sunday night Ottawa was a Utopia. A few hours to step away from the hustle and bustle of the busy, and sometimes stressful, holiday season. The Centrepointe Theatre was packed wall to wall with not a single empty seat to be found in the entire venue and all in attendance to welcome Serena Ryder. By the turnout you’d think that it was Serena’s first visit to the city in years when in reality it would be the third performance in Ottawa since the May release of Utopia (she performed at TD Ottawa Jazz Festival in June and at the Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill).

Reuben and the Dark perform at the Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa photo Dale Sinclair

Kicking things off the night were Calgary quintet Reuben and the Dark, we recently caught these guys at the Grey Cup Festival and before I go any further I need to apologise to Reuben Bullock and his band. I gave them a negative review after their TD Place performance just a few weeks ago but after seeing them last night I realized it wasn’t a bad performance at all, simply a horrible time slot.

Last night Reuben and the Dark were able to set the tone, control the flow, so to speak. They had full control over the momentum and delivered an incredible performance that perfectly set the stage for Serena Ryder. With hits like “Rolling Stone” and “Bow and Arrow” Reuben had the crowd eating out of his hand. The performance was smooth and flowed like a river from song to song. Reuben has an incredible stage presence as he, seemingly, floats around the stage interacting with each of the band members. At one point in their set he pointed out the wide variety of ages in attendance and told a parent in the crowd that if they needed someone to hold their baby during the show the bass player doesn’t do much and could help out. I was thankful that I had the opportunity to get a do-over with Reuben and the Dark so soon and look forward to catching them at a festival somewhere in the summer of 2018.

Serena Ryder performs at the Centrepointe Theatres in Ottawa photo Dale Sinclair

Serena Ryder set the tone for what kind of show we’d be in for right out of the gate as she hit the stage as a silhouette in the backlight stomping her way to front stage with her smash hit “Stompa”. This is a show that I had been anticipating for a long time, with all her recent visits to Ottawa I had yet to catch a Serena Ryder performace and just a few weeks after interviewing her this one was set to be special.

The next 90 minutes were far from a performance, rather Serena put on an engaging, interactive presentation. From her song “Hands” all the way to the explosive finale “Electric Love” the audience was either singing along, dancing in their seats or clapping along to the rhythm.

A definite highlight of the show was when Serena gave the band a break and sat down with just her guitar for a couple of songs. She started her acoustic set with a gripping cover of Leonard Cohen’s “The Sisters of Mercy” which she followed with “It’s No Mistake” off of Utopia. The acoustic set came to an end with a song that started it all for Serena, “Weak in the Knees”. She started the song with just her and her guitar but then midway through the song the band returned.

Serena Ryder performs at the Centrepointe Theatres in Ottawa photo Dale Sinclair

She wrapped up the night with more songs from Utopia, including “Wild and Free” and her big hit “Got Your Number”, she event squeeze in some Christmas spirit with “Calling to Say”.

It was a perfect night to escape for a few hours and just sit back, relax and go on a musical journey to Utopia and Serena Ryder was the perfect tour guide.

The Ontario leg of Serena’s Utopia Tour wraps up with a two night stand at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall later this week, at last check there were still limited tickets available for both shows. On February 13 Utopia heads west for the second half of it’s run. Tickets for these dates are mostly sold out already. For full details and tickets visit www.serenaryder.com

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