The Rural Alberta Advantage At Schubas 10/29/12

I left last night’s RAA show a bit underwhelmed. I saw the band play an inspired set in the same venue back in 2010, and another great set at SXSW last year. This time everything felt a bit chaotic and messy. There were two brutal moments when Nils made mistakes that couldn’t be overlooked-one when he tried to play a solo song and couldn’t make it through it, and later toward the end when he missed a note so badly he looked out at the audience with a look of shock and embarrassment. If they were a punk band this probably would have gone unnoticed, but so much of their sound is built on hitting things just right. I’m still a huge fan and hope that this was just a fluke. They’ve been writing a new record, and I understand that often the older songs get neglected during these times.

(sidenote about the above video: I’m not sure if the dominant crowd voice you hear is mine or the guy next to me-we seemed to have pretty similar voices and I can’t tell)

Actually, the two new songs that they played were quite good. Definitely a different sound, but still in their comfort zone. The biggest difference on these was Paul Watt’s drumming, which didn’t feel so frantic. They really played more as pop songs than I’d expected. They didn’t give away titles of either, but I recorded one for you to hear.

Later in the set they played a ill-advised version of David Bowie’s “Starman” that almost turned me off to the song completely. I’m not sure what it was, but something about the way they reworked the material to accommodate their three-piece felt wrong. This was pretty much the point where I decided that instead of trying to enjoy the performance so much, I should just focus on how much I love the songs that RAA has written. Once I did this the show got much better.

Other than one rather rambunctious fan who couldn’t seem to hold it together for the duration of the show, the crowd was really good. I assume many of those in the audience were also there at the last RAA show. The band does have a way of getting people going, and everyone around me was singing/screaming as loud or louder than I was.

My favorite moment of the show actually came during opener Dan Mangan’s set. They were getting ready to play a song that required a little audience participation and he talked a bit about it. The song was “Robots,” and the line the crowd sings is “Robots need love too, they want to be loved by you. They want to be loved by you.” He eluded to the fact that this song could be about Mitt Romney, but to please not give him your love. I thought it was hilarious, and everyone around me seemed to as well.

Mangan’s set was good. I missed the first song, but what I saw made me take note of the band’s talent. Dan reminds me a lot of a hybrid between Glen Hansard and Scott Hutchison. He’s got that gravelly voice that can become a roar, but he can also be sweet and vulnerable. I haven’t spent any time with his music, but if you like The Swell Season, The Frames, or Frightened Rabbit, I’d give it a go.

Overall I’m not thrilled with what I heard last night, but I’ll continue to believe that The RAA is a band of great talent and potential. These new songs seem to be headed in a new direction, and maybe that’s what they need right now. I could see how playing the same songs night in and night out could become tiresome and just wanting to move on. Hopefully the next time they come through town they’ll have a whole new record to play and we can get back to the high-octane good times that I’ve come to expect from them.

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