East and West With the Rural Alberta Advantage

This post can also be found at: http://mondaymag.com/articles/entry/concert-review-the-rural-alberta-advantage/

The Rural Alberta Advantage, Pepper Rabbit and Imaginary Cities
November 5, Sugar Nightclub

Sugar Nightclub was still almost empty when Imaginary Cities walked down the stairs and up to the stage on Friday night. The Winnipeg band was finishing up their first tour of Western Canada in support of the Rural Alberta Advantage and quickly got the crowd moving with their soul-infused rock and roll.  They are a band with great potential; centered on the powerful vocals of their lead singer, the band is tighter than one would expect considering how long they have been playing together. Their anthemic, straight ahead rock sound might benefit with some experimentation, however, and at certain points in the evening, it seemed as though this might be starting to happen. Unfortunately, the keyboards were often lost in the mix, forcing us to strain to hear the rise and fall of crescendo keys, which brought an “otherness”, for lack of a better word, to the otherwise straight ahead rock music. It will be interesting to see how all this touring will play out in the relatively green band’s sound. Hopefully they will come to visit us again in a couple years.

I had the opportunity to speak to Imaginary Cities’ lead singer later on in the evening when she was putting in her time at the merch booth and was surprised to find out that the band was founded only earlier this year in between sets at a Winnipeg bar called The Cavern. Already, the band is readying the release of their first album, due out on Hidden Pony records this February and touring Canada extensively. We talked a bit about Winnipeg, a city which is becoming a hot spot for Canadian music, and she was curious about what’s going on with Victoria’s music scene. Friendly and excited about finding new music, she promised me she would check out some Victoria artists such as Frog Eyes and Chet.

Next to take the stage was California band Pepper Rabbit, who threatened to steal the show from the evening’s headliners. Hiding behind a tightly knit wall of lazer beams, the band delivered a sonic swirl of sound reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks and Department of Eagles. While the beer tub girl wasn’t quite sure how to dance to the California band’s complex pop, the rest of us just stood back and soaked up the beautiful melodies the band effortlessly created with a wide assortment of instruments including Ukulele, banjo, percussion and synthesizers. Some of us forsook our regular habit of procuring an album after the show in order to ensure that we got one; having listened to the vinyl compulsively for the past two days, I can assure you it was worth lugging around for the rest of the show. Pepper Rabbit’s set was a warm up to their fast approaching tour with the equally impressive American band, Passion Pit, which will see them return to their homeland. On this night, however, Victorians were blessed with the almost perfect pop of Pepper Rabbit; and it was good.

Following Pepper Rabbit, The Rural Alberta Advantage had a lot to live up to. Touring in support of their recent Saddle Creek Records release, “Hometowns”, the band has received much critical acclaim; even the chronically skeptical Pitchfork gave the album a warm review and a solid 8.0 out of 10. While it might be tempting to compare RAA to indie-rock gods Neutral Milk Hotel, as Nels Edenloff’s nasal nostalgia recalls Jeff Mangum’s drone, the band’s synth-soaked sound is much more akin to electronic savvy artists such as The Postal Service. Like the Postal Service, RAA’s drummer was both literally and musically front and center on Friday night.

The Rural Alberta Advantage’s set included material from “Hometowns” as well as new songs (the band has just finished recording a new album). By the time their set began, Sugar’s dance floor was packed, swaying to Edenloff’s memories of Albertan prairies: even the beer tub girl danced with the confidence that she was doing the right thing. As a former resident of Alberta myself, it was nice to hear songs recollecting the place warmly without slipping into the painful faux-cowboy stupidity of say, Corb Lund. Edenloff’s lyrics speak of the vastness of prairies and Alberta night skies, but they also describe uncomfortable apartments and break ups; his delivery is, at once passionate and plainspoken. Friday night marks the first time I have ever heard anyone say, “This next song is about Lethbridge”, prompting tremendous applause.

When it all came to a close and the Rural Alberta finished up their strong set, hustling to the merch booth to sell their wares, the fast dispersing crowd unanimously smiled big smiles having seen three great bands for a modest price. For a mere $20, we bore witness to the straight ahead rock of Middle North America, the psychedelic swirls of the West and the perfect pop of the East. It is unlikely that these bands will play together any time soon, each heading in different directions, be it Europe for the Rural Alberta Advantage, the United States for Pepper Rabbit or Eastern Canada for Imaginary Cities. But on Friday night, we were lucky enough to have them all under one roof. We know where these bands are going in terms of geography and wait excitedly to see where they end up musically.

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