Rural Alberta Advantage Toronto

Bittersweet Homecoming for the Rural Alberta Advantage

Lee's Palace hosted yet another great all Canadian line-up on Friday night with Nevado Records artists Fox Jaws and Bahamas opening up for the local breakthrough act of the year, The Rural Alberta Advantage.

Headlining their largest local show to date, the RAA managed to sell the venue out weeks in advance, prompting dozens of fans to wait outside in the cold for the chance to grab tickets halfway through the show.

Fox Jaws hit the stage at ten o'clock sharp, much to the delight of the hyper-energetic die-hard fans that were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to dance. I was immediately captivated with singer Carleigh Aikins, whose throaty, visceral voice openly invites Joplin comparisons.

Fox Jaws Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert Rural Alberta Advantage Fox Jaws Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert Rural Alberta Advantage

To say their set was musically diverse would be an understatement: they jump from country and folk rock to full-out aggressive post-punk, disregarding any preconceived notions of genre or classification. Fox Jaws are certainly no strangers to playing with feedback and distortion, as many of their songs explode from melody to cacophony and back again.

Up next was perhaps one of the most charmingly awkward performers I have ever seen: Afie Jurvanen aka Bahamas. Tonight, he was joined on stage by a one man rhythm section on percussion. Immediately he began taunting the crowd, mocking anyone wearing American Apparel, and harshly telling the rowdy bar dwellers to head upstairs to the Dance Cave if they wanted to keep interrupting his set.

 Bahamas Live Lee's Palace Toronto Bahamas Live Lee's Palace Toronto

The Finnish-Canadian claimed that Friday was his first performance without a mustache in two years - an ironic feat considering the fad that is Movember.

His dry wit had me cracking up throughout the entire set. He spent a good thirty seconds bracing the crowd for a slower song, then built things back up by attempting a bass solo on electric guitar using only the high-E string. Where Afie's debut album Pink Strat has a definite island vibe to it, his live show massively steps up the intensity.

 Bahamas Live Lee's Palace Toronto Bahamas Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert Rural Alberta Advantage

His skills as a blues guitarist are not to be overlooked, nor are his facial expressions as he plays. He closed with a cover of 'Purple Rain' which prompted a sing-a-long and got the crowd hyped up for the RAA.

The Rural Alberta Advantage took the stage at midnight, with songwriter Nils Edenloff immediately expressing his gratitude and surprise at the size of the crowd before launching into a new, untitled track.

 Rural Alberta Advantage Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert  Rural Alberta Advantage Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert

Not to in any way complain about the increased success of such a deserving band, but live RAA shows have definitely suffered in light of swelling venue and crowd sizes. For the most part, their sound is delicate and greatly benefits from acoustic performance. During encores, they're known for moving to the middle of the crowd for an unplugged encore.

With the number of froshies and barely-legal drunkards in attendance last night, it's a wonder Nils didn't react like Afie. Not to sound like the prototypical post-grad elitist or anything, but keep the frosh chants and XXX public displays of affection on campus. Where louder bands could have simply drowned them out, the mass of disrespectful attendees were visibly shaking the performers throughout the night.

That being said, the RAA took the high road, did their best to ignore the distractions and delivered a high-energy set featuring most of Hometowns, a few unreleased tracks, and a trio of promising new songs.

 Rural Alberta Advantage Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert

Fan favourites like 'Don't Haunt This Place,' 'Drain the Blood' and 'Frank, AB' were met with enthusiastic sing and clap-a-longs, while Nils' solo acoustic rendition of 'Maybe Tomorrow' (theme song from early 80's Canadian TV-series The Littlest Hobo) offered fans a optimistic portrayal of life on the road as a touring musician.

While Nils' heartfelt and earnest lyrics take the forefront of the RAA's songs, it's the one-man rhythm section of drummer Paul Banwatt that gives them body. He is absolutely ferocious behind his kit, frantically wailing with such intensity that it's impossible to tear your eyes from him.

 Rural Alberta Advantage Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert  Rural Alberta Advantage Live Lee's Palace Toronto Concert

He keeps the pace brilliantly, filling the gaps in between Nils' acoustic strumming while Amy Cole adds simple melodies with keys or the xylophone and lends her voice to complementary harmonies from time to time.

They kept their sound incredibly tight and cohesive throughout the night, clearly having benefited from the abundance of touring they've done in light of their signing to US independent record label Saddle Creek.

Musically, I couldn't have asked for more from my Friday night at Lee's - three diverse sounds from three brilliant Canadian groups. Check out the RAA's full setlist below:

1. Untitled
2. Rush Apart
3. The Ballad of the RAA
4. Don't Haunt This Place
5. Luciana
6. New Song
7. Frank, AB
8. Maybe Tomorrow (Terry Bush cover)
9. Four Night Rider
10. Edmonton
11. New Song
12. Drain the Blood
13. New Song
14. In the Summertime**
15. The Deadroads
16. Barnesyard (Unreleased)**
17. Sleep All Day
18. The Deathbridge in Lethbridge

**Daytrotter versions of these tracks, as well as two others ('The Air' and 'Two Lovers') available for free download.

Words & photos by Matthew McAndrew.

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