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The Rural Alberta Advantage Finds a Home on the Road

March 11th, 2011

The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Bowery Ballroom – March 10, 2011

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The Rural Alberta Advantage came to the sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night already having made a career, albeit a short one, on weird, fetishized stories about provincial Canada. Supporting their second record, Departing, thematically connected to their first, Hometowns, it was hard to say if the band was coming or going, with their lyrics touching equally on the desire to return to the places we know best and the need to burn these rural geographies from our past and hit the road. Their charm was, perhaps, in their ability to table these questions of origin and escape velocity, as they stood as an homage to life on the road a million miles from your friends.

Noticeably mixing in more keyboard-driven songs from their new album, the RAA still sounded the spitting image of the Neutral Milk Hotel 10 years later, with lead singer Nils Edenloff doing his best Jeff Magnum. These new and old songs mixed easily in the first half of the set as the band played “Rush Apart,” “Don’t Haunt This Place” and the new “Tornado ’87,” the last further cementing Edenloff as the best lyrical poet of Canadian natural disaster when placed in loose metaphor with fracturing human relationships. Straining vocals—and Schadenfreude might be part of the pathos here for the audience—left the singer, bursting vein in his neck, screaming, “I let you go, I let you go, and I hold you!”

A few songs later, a fixed broken string and bass pedal on first-album stunner “Edmonton,” had the adorable jack-of-all trades keyboardist Amy Cole emoting: “Bowery Ballroom, you gave us the strength to solve our problems!” Frankly, it was a winning moment from a band that relies so heavily on being likable. The set closed with their latest single, “Stamp,” as drummer Paul Banwatt turned his sticks into hummingbird wings in the stage lights. The band would return for an encore and finally wrapped with “The Dethbridge in Lethbridge,” a song about the potentially fatal perils of trying to get out of town. And yet, here they were, alive and well. —Geoff Nelson