Rural Alberta Advantage at the Firebird, 4/22/11: Review
Rural Alberta Advantage/Loud Huron/Tall Buildings
Photo by Vanessa Heins
Friday, April 22
It was Show vs. the Tornado. Battling through wind, rain, hail and lightning, a good-sized crowd made it out to the Firebird, where Rural Alberta Advantage sang songs about natural disasters of scales large and small.
Taking the stage after 11 p.m., the Canadian trio's set seemed to be a race against closing time. In a little more than an hour, RAA managed to play nineteen songs that coupled ramshackle lo-fi folk with electro-pop dance beats. All three members played from the front of the stage, with singer-songwriter Nils Edenloff leading the charge at center with acoustic guitar and a reedy, persuasive voice that by turns reminded me of Billy Corgan, Deer Tick's John McCauley, and in gentler moments, Roman Candle's Skip Matheny.
Though RAA's second album, Departing, released in March, was well-represented, the band's first release, 2008's Hometowns, dominated the playlist. This band is more than Edenloff's meditation on homesickness. Paul Banwatt's vigorous drumming is central to the mix, ranging from thrashing on opening rocker "Luciana" to the skittering turbines of "Stamp."
Amy Cole fills in the holes on percussion, but it's her keyboard touches and ethereal vocal harmonies seem to provide wings for RAA's liftoff into birds-eye territory. Without her whistling wind backing vocals, synth strains and insistent organ drones on standout track "Frank AB," the story of a town buried in a 1903 rockslide would have remained close to the ground.
It was a young, supportive crowd. Edenloffs held the room captive in quiet moments, like the clearings in the middle of galloping "Tornado '87" (appropriate) and at the end of "The Ballad of the RAA," when swelling cymbals and chiming xylophone faded to Edenloff's voice longing for the prairies from the "Rockies to the Great Lakes," and assuring us that "what we've had/is a good thing, it will last."
Opener Lord Huron was until recently the solo work of L.A.-via-Michigan multimedia artist Ben Schneider, but he appeared last night with the band's current incarnation as a filled-out five-piece. (Schneider says they've started writing songs together.) Lord Huron paired Schneider's heartfelt vocals with beachy, Afro-Caribbean-indebted guitars and unexpected diversions to produce a lilting electro-pastoral folk. For now, I prefer the dreamy precision of Lord Huron's studio albums to the live version, but the songwriter of a tune as hypnotic as "The Stranger" is one to watch.
Weather kept me from hearing the first half of the set by In Tall Buildings. It's the solo project of Erik Hall, guitarist for NOMO, the large Afrobeat world-jazz outfit formed in Ann Arbor, where he also attended the University of Michigan (like Lord Huron's Schneider). With Hall's vision realized live as a trio, the Chicago band held forth with a '70s spacey-yet-familiar vibe, just as concerned with Neil Young as with current indie rock preoccupations with inventive live instrumentation and the marriage of earthy and electronic. With Hall's voice distorted over upfront acoustic guitar, it sounded like the music for a long, rain-in-the-face stare over a watery horizon.
Rural Alberta Advantage Setlist:
2. Muscle Relaxants
3. Don't Haunt This Place
4. Under the Knife
5. Rush Apart
6. Tornado '87
7. The Ballad of the RAA
8. The Breakup
9. Maybe Tomorrow (Theme song from "The Littlest Hobo")
10. Four Night Rider
12. Frank, AB
13. In the Summertime
14. Drain the Blood
15. The Deadroads
17. North Star
18. Barnes' Yard
19. The Dethbridge in Lethbridge
Thanks to BoomingMusicScene for this video from last night's show!