The Rural Alberta Advantage – Concert Review
As originally published on TheRooster.ca
The best concerts are the ones where you enjoy a couple hours’ worth of solid tunes before you walk out of the venue drenched in your own sweat with your ears ringing loudly and your smile stretching from ear to ear. You don’t care that it’s a late Sunday night and you have to work in the morning. You aren’t fazed by how far from home you are. You’re just happy to be alive with your spirit soaring to such amazing new musically induced heights. That’s the type of euphoric feeling I’ve felt after every performance I’ve seen from The Rural Alberta Advantage and the band’s special headlining show this past Sunday night in Regina was no exception. I’m something of a Rural Alberta fanatic, but I think even the unbiased in attendance at The Exchange would agree that the band brought the stuff that indie rock dreams are made of.
The Rural Alberta Advantage (or RAA for short) is a three-piece band from Ontario comprised of lead singer/guitarist Nils Edenloff, drummer Paul Banwatt and keyboardist Amy Cole. The band’s first album, 2009’s Hometowns, is one of those records that I can spin on repeat without getting sick of it. Every track on the album could be considered a highlight, and 2011’s follow-up Departing is equally as good. I’ve managed to see the RAA every time they’ve come through Regina, and I’ve even made a number of road trips up to Saskatoon to see them play. The band knows how to “bring the rock” as well as how to quiet it down for a more intimate moment or two. Their sound has filled a variety of venues from coast to coast, from large hockey arenas to small churches and everything in between. The RAA is currently on tour supporting The Tragically Hip and spending so much time alongside such a seasoned and timeless band seems to have reinforced the RAA’s already-strong stage presence – I was transfixed from beginning to end and every other audience member seemed to be just as enthralled as I was with the impressive showmanship on stage.
The band kicked off their set with the energetic “Muscle Relaxants” from Departing. It’s a sure-fire way to grab anyone’s attention, and those who were seated quickly jumped to their feet and moved to the front of the stage. The hour and a half that followed was comprised of an equal mix of songs from both Hometowns and Departing. The band is currently working on perfecting songs for an upcoming third album but the audience at The Exchange on Sunday was treated to a preview of one of those in-progress tracks. This new song fit in perfectly with the rest of the night’s set and made me hungry for more.
Fan favorites like the soft(er) “Don’t Haunt This Place” were welcomed as enthusiastically as heavy-hitters like “The Deathbridge in Lethbridge”. An extra-special surprise came in the form of a cover of Gord Downie’s “Canada Geese” (from The Hip frontman’s 2001 solo album Coke Machine Glow). I was delighted at how well Nil’s voice filled in for Downie’s, sounding somewhat perfectly suited to the poet’s rapid-fire prose while remaining distinct in its own right. This cover ended by leading into the main set’s final number, a rousing rendition of Departing’s lead single, “Stamp”.
An already amazing night of live music reached a whole new level when the band members stepped down off the stage and into the audience, bringing a guitar, a drum and a tambourine with them. They then stood up on three chairs and closed the night off with an unplugged and extremely intimate performance of “Goodnight”. It was a moment that caught everyone off guard, and one I know I won’t soon forget. The band finished their song and filed back onto the stage while a thankful and respectful crowd applauded with all their might. Well, I sure know I clapped as loud as I could. Performances like that are rare and I am so glad I was there to experience it.
I left The Exchange feeling that great feeling where nothing else in the world matters; I felt like I wanted to stay up all night and dance but my sense of “responsibility” told me I should just drive home and try to get some sleep. I got in my car, plugged in my iPhone and set my music to “random”. I drove across the city to my apartment while ignoring everything except the traffic lights, other vehicles around me and the fresh and warm memories running through my head. I eventually pulled up outside my building and shifted into park but before I could turn the engine off my randomized playlist queued up the RAA’s “Stamp”. The timing was just too perfect to ignore, so I sat in my car with another smile on my face while I enjoyed my second goodnight song of the evening.