The Rural Alberta Advantage never just go through the motions. Their stop Sunday night at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom was the last US show the band has scheduled for awhile, and they made the most of every minute. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Nils Edenloff, drummer Paul Banwatt and keyboardist Amy Cole motored through tracks from their stellar debut Hometowns and its recently released followup Departing at an admirably rapid rate, much to the delight of an attentive, appreciative crowd.
This was the second show I’ve seen from The RAA, but the first since they doubled their material with the release of Departing. The set list was a nice mix of both albums, and in fact I struggled initially to think of songs the band didn’t play on Sunday night. Edenloff added color to some of the tracks by offering brief explanations of their origins before the entire trio launched into its frenetically-paced tunes. Just a couple of the anecdotes he offered:
—Departing song “Barnes’ Yard” is inspired by a disgruntled old man who owned a house on Edenloff’s paper route as a kid and who, as Edenloff put it, “affected me in a really strange way.”
–The story behind the haunting track “Frank, AB” from Hometowns comes from the 1903 collapse of Turtle Mountain in Frank, Alberta. Edenloff visited the site — now a historical landmark and tourist attraction — as a child and was profoundly affected by the thought of those buried underneath North America’s largest-ever landslide.
The energy the band put into their roughly 70-minute set was something to behold. Just as I remembered from the first time I saw
The RAA, Paul Banwatt’s drumming is the engine that drives many of the band’s songs, and the ferocity with which he whales on his tiny drum kit couldn’t be more impressive. Edenloff’s nasally croon was strong as ever, and Cole’s backing vocals and keyboard playing — along with her intense stare and ancillary percussion — were a lot of fun to see and hear.
Edenloff thanked the crowd over and over, and confessed the band’s first-ever gig was at an open mic night: “So to be here is a dream come true.” By the end of the night, all three band members appeared spent but satisfied — just genuinely happy to have played for us. Highlights for me were Banwatt’s shotgun-style percussion breakdowns on “Muscle Relaxants,” Edenloff’s piercing vocals that finish off the aforementioned “Frank, AB” and Cole’s lovely vocals on slowed-down number “In the Summertime.”
But the true highlight of the performance came on the band’s final song of its encore, Departing closer “Good Night,” where the band hopped off stage and played with the crowd in a giant, loving circle around them. It was wonderful, and the perfect way to cap a memorable set.
Best I can remember, these are the songs that were played from each album:
Hometowns: “The Ballad of the RAA,” “Rush Apart,” “Don’t Haunt This Place,” “The Deathbridge in Lethbridge,” “The Deadroads,” “Drain The Blood,” “Frank, AB,” “Four Night Rider,” “Edmonton,” “In the Summertime.”
Departing: “Two Lovers,” “The Breakup,” “North Star,” “Muscle Relaxants,” “Stamp,” “Tornado ’87,” “Barnes’ Yard,” “Good Night.”
BONUS: Edenloff played his awesome cover of “The Eye of The Tiger.”
Los Angeles band Lord Huron opened for The RAA, and they were a lot of fun. Their somewhat somber tropical pop — complete with piped in ocean sound effects and plenty of exuberance in their own right — had the crowd bouncing and swaying from side to side and smiling broadly. Lead singer and songwriter Benji Schneider bounded around stage during the set, and his vocals sounded dynamite as he belted out tune after tune with eyes closed and mouth open wide.