Review and photos – Rural Alberta Advantage at Venue, Vancouver, April 7, 2011
– review by Rebecca Apostoli/photos by Ashley Tanasiychuk
You might describe the sound of Rural Alberta Advantage (RAA) as being caught somewhere between a country folk fest and urban dance club. While being torn in two seemingly different directions on Thursday night at Venue, the overall feeling wasn’t one of conflict. With so many alt-folk post-disco indie-rock causalities being panned by critics, RAA makes this unique genre fusion work and does so with a sense of humour, charm and loads of Canadian class.
Originally formed in Cabbagetown (a hip urban neighborhood in Toronto) in 2005, RAA were signed to Saddle Creek Records in 2009. Following a break-out smash performance at SXSW 2009, the band has been receiving accolades left, right and centre: X3 Artist of the month by Aux.tv, CBC Radio 3 and Exclaim!, a “Breaking Out” feature in SPIN Magazine and a sold-out tour for debut album Hometowns. They have been praised near and far for their unique sound, which alternates between, and often fuses, loud folk-y indie rock and post-disco pop rock together in an unpredictable meld of danceable, rump-shaking good times, with lyrics providing a new, young twist on the requisite feel-good Canadiana content.
On Thursday night, the lively three-piece – Nils Edenloff, Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt – debuted numbers from their new release Departing, including “Muscle Relaxants,” “North Star” and “Stamp”. Each musician was fascinating to watch, as they alternated from one instrument to the next, with Cole playing keyboard, synth, tambourine, floor tom and xylophone; Edenloff playing acoustic guitar and keyboard; and drummer Banwatt playing a futuristic, cyborg-like Rhythm Traveller set.
On top of genre-busting innovative sounds, RAA are super fun to watch – each member is engaging, raucous, and zealous in their attacks on their instruments. Watching Cole and Banwatt alternate beating a floor tom into submission, it became evident that they must go through a lot of drumsticks (possible Zildjian sponsorship opportunity there?). Their spontaneity and freedom onstage gives this ensemble an elusive youthfulness and freshness, something a lot of bands lack, either through awkwardness, newness to performing or uncertainty of the boundaries surrounding their own self-constructed personas. RAA displayed none of these at Venue, and entertained with their onstage antics, as well as satisfied with their soulful sounds.
Not to taint such a positive review, but something needs to be said about Venue itself. A dance club that moonlights as a live music spot, Venue (formerly the Plaza) is obviously staffed by people used to dealing with Granville Street drunks and Vancouver’s bridge-and-tunnel crowd.
However, live music fans too are patrons of the establishment – buying tickets and $9 beers. So when, as was the case Thursday night, we are insulted by bouncers and ignored by bitchy bartenders (I experienced both), and people can barely move because the club has been oversold (I was not the only one complaining about this), it’s time to review your hiring and ticket policies.
Word-of-mouth is more powerful than ever; it would be a shame for Vancouver to lose another live music venue, which could happen once the word spreads and people, tired of being treated like dirt, decide to take their money elsewhere.