Friday, February 05, 2010

Concert Review: The Rural Alberta Advantage - 12/9/09

February 3, 2010 8:42 AM
It was fucking cold in St. Louis on this particular Wednesday night. With temperatures hovering in the single digits and a large segment of the local population raiding grocery stores as if Thursday morning would bring with it a new Ice Age, the chance of a poorly-attended show at Off Broadway was a strong possibility. Yet despite the usual panic-inducing weather forecasters begging people to stay the fuck inside, enough like-minded indie souls braved the elements to make The Rural Alberta Advantage's second show in St. Louis in 2009 respectably attended.

Mixing songs from the somewhat-underappreciated Hometowns with several new songs and one truly bizarre yet sublime Survivor cover, the trio played a spirited, ramshackle and altogether too brief 45-minute set. The band's setup was rather minimal, as members Nils Edenloff, Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole set up in a straight line toward the front of the stage with only a couple keyboards, an acoustic guitar, small drum kit and various pieces of percussion.

In this live setting the tracks from Hometowns were performed rougher and more aggressive than their more polished album counterparts, suggesting the current critics' depiction of the group as dreamy-eyed, nostalgia-filled Canadian indie-popsters isn't entirely accurate. Most noticeable was the contrast between Banwatt's precise and frenetic drumming and Edenloff's slowed-down vocals on "Don't Haunt This Place" and "Drain the Blood," a juxtaposition that exists on the album but was more noticeable in concert. Cole alternated between keyboards and percussion, sometimes hitting a tambourine set atop a drum or just the drum, adding an extra kick to "In the Summertime" and most other songs. Edenloff's vocals were far-ranging and expressive without coming across as overly emotional, overblown or derivative - enough with the comparisons to Mangum and Meloy already - on slow burners like "The Ballad of the RAA" as well as the blistering, set-closing "The Dethbridge In Lethbridge." Even a take on the goddawful and nauseatingly insipid "Eye of the Tiger" - one of the lowest points in the history of shitty 1980s music - somehow worked, as Edenloff transformed it into something more meaningful and relevant than the bombastic Balboa-recalling original. It wasn't quite as implausible as Richard Thompson singing "Oops!... I Did It Again," but it certainly came close. Three new songs were performed with very little introduction from Edenloff; all three were excellent and suggest the band's next release will be every bit as good as Hometowns.

There is an honesty and sincerity to Hometowns, and the band's stage demeanor similarly came across as equally earnest. Clearly the band knows they've got a damn good set of songs, playing with an intensity and focus that older and more established bands still lack. Skeptics might dismiss the group's subject matter as too limited, and undeniably the Canadian landscape right now defines both the band's catalog and how they are perceived by some fans and critics.

Once the show ended some of the audience clearly wasn't in a hurry to head back outside; it likely wasn't just because of the freezing slaps of winds that waited just outside Off Broadway's front door. It doesn't always require overwrought lyrics and bloated arrangements to convey emotion. Sometimes it can be done with a simple stage presence, imperfectly nasal voice, precise drumming, flourishes of keyboards and percussion and lyrics that say something about both hope and loneliness without dissolving into either extreme pessimism or idiotic optimism, something that The Rural Alberta Advantage clearly already knows.

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