The last time I saw the Rural Alberta Advantage was toward the end of 2009 at the Bootleg Theater. They were touring Hometowns, which had quickly become one of my all time personal favorite albums. As I wrote in the recent review of their latest great album, Mended with Gold, their drummer Paul Banwatt is the most striking element of their sound. But what I remember from that show was that the reliance on his crazy ass drumming was a bit of a weakness. In 2009, a song like “Don’t Haunt This Place” would change in the middle of a song to a slower tempo just to accommodate all the drumming. I had got the impression that in the studio, they had written songs with a ton of drum fills (tricks, really) only to find that on-stage it’s really exhausting to do that 12 songs in a row.
I wasn’t disappointed. I merely adjusted my expectations. Of course it wouldn’t be as much of a precision blitz in person, that was unrealistic of me to expect, went the thinking. I shouldn’t have believed otherwise.
Well, however I felt about that 2009 show is irrelevant because in 2014, The Rural Alberta Advantage seem to have nailed their act down. No mid-song tempo shifts, no strategically constructed set lists with slow songs for breaks. Just big wails, vibrant keys and the mother of all show off drummers. It was a wonderful time.
Opening for them was July Talk. We’ve covered them before, at a Chicago show, but deserves repeating that they’re consummate showman on that stage. They took an early bird crowd and, song by song, whipped them up into a frenzy. The way they perform as characters in their song and the way Peter and Leah interact are really things no other band is doing right now.
I was concerned that the hard blues rocking of July Talk would serve to neuter what was to come from the RAA, but they have a veritable arsenal now. Over three albums they have all sorts of bangers. “Tornado ’87” in particular is a much more wicked song in person, wracked and cursed in memorable ways. Nils Edenloff is a hell of a front man that can make an acoustic guitar ring through a room. Amy Cole is now much more of a stage presence, beating the crap out of a floor tom, or a tambourine, or a keyboard, or darting back and forth across the stage to the music. I watched Paul Banwatt play drums and just went “Christ!” a lot.
They’re a much more complete, versatile and reliable live band than I thought they were 5 years ago. They were never bad — they just didn’t live up to my high regard back then. It’s heartening to see that they do now, and it’s a pleasure to see them grow as performers.
- Amy & Paul play without shoes.
- There was a lot of great between-song banter. Amy tried to test the waters by asking us if we should be congratulated for the San Francisco Giants winning the world series, being our Californian brethren and all. The crowd mostly booed.
- The Roxy has great beer.
- Paul swapped out one of his cymbals for this chewed up one with holes in it. It was falling apart from playing too hard, but it had a sound he liked for that particular song. They got through it and, apparently, that was it for the life of that broken down, gnarly cymbal. He literally played it to pieces. Gave it to some guy in the crowd.
- They finished their encore with an unamplified, walk-into-the-crowd rendition of “Good Night,” an ending I’m positive they did back in ’09 before we knew what song that was. They’ve always contended that it sounds better without mics and speakers and they’re right. If they ever get to be an big room band, it just won’t be the same.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.