Rural Alberta Advantage brings Hometowns to the small town

Rural Alberta Advantage, Grad Club, Kingston, OntarioWith all the Rural Alberta Advantage’s latest buzz and sold-out show, I should have expected that Saturday’s Grad Club experience would be pretty different than usual. The first floor was packed to capacity. I couldn’t even play my usual game of ‘count the plaid shirts and black glasses’ because the visual onslaught in my periphery was enough to confuse all but the most scientific tally.

The Rural Alberta Advantage have soared into consciousness in recent months, while touring their 2008 release, Hometowns, and getting signed to Saddle Creek records (Bright Eyes, Land of Talk, Sebastian Grainger, Tokyo Police Club.) Hometowns gives rural romanticisim and teenage nostalgia a home in the Jeff Magnumesque vocals of Nils Edenloff, played against grounding percussion of Paul Banwatt and twee crooning from Amy Cole, held together by keyboard synth and acoustic guitar.

A tight crowd had amassed around the stage long before the show began, making it difficult to get anywhere within reasonable sightlines without resorting to obnoxious shoving and debauchery. Not that this was a deterrant for many audience members. Drunk off the Yates Cup victory and Alberta pride, the close-up crowd was much rowdier than usual, inspiring both gratitude and playfully cocked brows from the band. A gaggle of girls in the front right kept screaming “Alberta!” with such gusto and naivety I began to suspect they only bought tickets to showcase their prairie pride.

Packed in a sweaty sardine sandwich with barely enough room to cradle my beer let alone dance, my friend and I sidled our way through hulking boisterous bodies up to stage just in time for the opening song. Banwatt was perched at the edge of the stage close to Cole while Edenloff told the stories from over by the window.

The real excitement started with the second song, hit Ballad of the RAA. Ballad proved to be the real initiator to the show, with trademark tight percussion and soaring keyboard. When Edenloff’s reedy vocals interrupted the handclapping and stomping of the audience, they joined in him in verse. The near-flawless recitation of RAA lyrics by a bunch of jocky-looking Kween’s Kids is a testament to band’s buzz .

And the noise never really stopped. Enthusiastic shouting characterized the evening, with cries of “Yates Cup!” and “Alberta!” dominating the first few rows. The spirit was forebodingly reminiscent of  last year’s Stars show when a couple teenagers puked drunken bile in the pews of Sydenham United. Still, it was hard to hate on the pure joy, although I’d be amiss in not remarking that occasionally the shouting drowned out the music and drew some irritated glares from the more seasoned concert-goers.

This isn’t to say, however, that the RAA’s songs didn’t carry through. The show felt like an intimate party with touching sing along testaments to ramshackle monuments in our hearts. Edenloff’s vocals were more raw than on the record and previous shows, drawing more attention to the personal stories in his yearning confessions than whimsical imagery.

Many a review has said that one of the main qualities that separates the RAA from other similar-sounding bands, such as Neutral Milk Hotel, is the strong percussion.  Although already remarkable on the record, it is even more so live. Banwatt’s percussion lit a rhythm fire under our feet, inspiring much more fist pumping than typical for an indie folk oufit. The fist-pumping to percussion was offset and complimented by Amy’s crooning and the audience attempts to sing along. The RAA balances the masculine and feminine well (as pointed out by P4k) with this dynamic clear in the vocal interplay between Edenloff and Cole, and instrumental balance between percussion and keyboard.

Between songs, Edenloff bantered with us, mischievously playing off the excessive drunken energy of the crowd. With a crooked smile and a glint in his eye, his interaction bordered on flirtation. He polled the audience asking whether we’d prefer a 70s or 80s cover, received little help, and then launched into a stripped down and winking rendition of Eye of the Tiger. While it was obviously played for laughs, the easy conversion of the tune to an indie pop aesthetic was impressive. Apparently this is a common gimmick at RAA shows — at an October show they covered Abba’s SOS. Combined with the impromptu dance contest Cole declared after Edenloff broke a string, the atmosphere was light, humourous and unassuming.

After an early wrap-up, they came back for an encore after only around a minute of screaming and resumed with In the Summertime, followed by a jumping-worthy rendition of Dethbridge in Lethbridge. They left again, while fans begged them to stay on stage and Urban Outfitters girls screamed “Alberta!” on repeat. When they returned for a second encore it was a little awkward, with Edenloff reasoning with the crowd to quiet down to hear the song. It took a good deal of persuading and bargaining, at which point they band descended the stage into the crowd, playing a whimsical farewell song, “Goodnight,’ a lullaby inches from my face. (For the record, let me attest that Edenloff has beautiful veins in his neck, rivalled only by the range of summer harvest colours in his beard.) The crowd assembled in a circle beside and around the band, many of us facing each other and exchanging smiles, sharing an experience many were aware wouldn’t be repeated. Given that the RAA is playing Terminal 5 in NYC in January — the same venue that’s hosting Sonic Youth this weekend — this might have been one of the last chances for non-industry folks to see them this close.

When I spoke to Edenloff after the show, he said that he wasn’t sure they’d be able to play their second encore, given the rowdiness of the crowd. But his playful attitude and the crowd’s fascination with the enthusiastic intimacy made it possible. I know this sounds like promo copy, but after their final song, the crowd dispersed into the autumn night finally sedate — except for the ones who stayed until close, begging for more.

Thanks to @MSG for the photo of the RAA performing at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!