Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Rural Alberta Advantage, Soup Kitchen 25th November 2014 9/10

Your impressions of Alberta may be influenced by the beauty of The Rockies in a holiday brochure, the comforts of the holiday resort Banff, or by the warm, polite Canadians you've met. The Rural Alberta Advantage sings of a harsher place, where natural disasters ravage communities and the sheer scale of the landscape threatens to overwhelm you. Nils Edenloff retreated to a remote cottage on the Bruce Peninsula to work on Mended With Gold. This may be in Ontario to the east, but speaks of the wilderness of all northern Canada when he describes howling wolves and a growling black bear. To Be Scared is an expression of the humbling feeling of being alone amidst nature, with none of the trappings of civilisation to hide behind. Earlier, introducing Tornado '87, Nils explained that one time, an actual tornado followed their performance of this song. The set last night was itself an assault on the senses, one short song following another without the aural tempest subsiding.

Much of Mended With Gold was written on tour, and whilst its style isn't a radical departure for The RAA, it brings a sophistication to their sound. It's clear that time spent on the road playing larger venues and festivals since their last visit to Manchester in May 2011 has allowed their stagecraft to progress. I wish they could tour the UK more frequently, but my patience was rewarded by the chance to see artistry of such calibre from the front of an intimate basement. Amy Cole led the youthful, enthusiastic audience in clapping and sing-alongs. The band had a hugely uplifting effect: despite singing of disaster, this was an amazingly joyful occasion; a celebration of life. Amy danced barefoot when she wasn't multitasking on percussion, keyboards, and pedals, exuding happiness. Paul Banwatt's expressions of sheer abandonment were infectious too.

Drumming more readily associated with punk dominates The RAA's sound, pulsating through my entire body despite Paul's use of a minimal kit. Unexpectedly given such ferocity, he's an intellectual property lawyer by day. Anyone expecting gentle folk music from the bearded, acoustic guitar playing Nils would also have been in for a shock. Initially, I thought that the raucous Canadian support act PS I Love You was an incongruous choice. Yet, their sound is also driven by the drummer, and Paul Saulnier's vocals could never be accused of sacrificing expression for beauty. Nils' voice is also divisive: some may find its astringent, nasal quality harsh, but the characterful tone been compared to Jeff Mangum's. He is balanced by Amy's airy backing harmonies, and assertiveness is an authentic part of the Albertan character. Tension and forward momentum sweep you along on an exiting journey.

A generous set ranged widely through the RAA's three albums, the opening sequence's release of energy giving a hint of Arcade Fire's explosive rock. Two of my highlights came from the new album, and showed a more nuanced side to the trio: the tense Vulcan, AB and the lyrical first encore, The Build, which was performed solo by Nils. Yet, the closing sequence will remain in the minds of all present: the devastating Dethbridge, about a suicide spot in the city of Lethbridge, and an un-miked performance of Good Night in the centre of the crowd, which has become a signature of The RAA's shows. They may be songs with simple melodies and chords, which some might find bombastic compared to Sharon Van Etten's nuanced show the night before. Yet, for all the visceral thrills and their unique sound, this was far from one dimensional and a tenderness behind the extrovert exterior moved me. The RAA are a live band above all, so their rare appearances in Europe absolutely should not be missed, whether or not you are a Canadaphile.

Set List
  • Stamp
  • Muscle Relaxants
  • Don't Haunt This Place
  • *Our Love....
  • *...On The Run
  • Tornado '87
  • *Vulcan, AB
  • Luciana
  • *On The Rocks
  • Rush Apart
  • 45/33
  • *To Be Scared
  • *Terrified
  • Four Night rider
  • Edmonton
  • Frank, AB
  • Drain The Blood
  • Two Lovers
  • *The Build
  • The Dethbridge in Lethbridge
  • Good Night
(*from Mended With Gold)

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