The Rural Alberta Advantage prepare to play for an adoring capacity crowd at Lee’s Palace.
It’s been more than a year since The Rural Alberta Advantage‘s Nils Edenloff, Amy Cole, and Paul Banwatt have played a full show in Toronto; in November 2009, they sold out Lee’s Palace a week before the show. This time, they did it almost a month in advance. Torontoist went to see these hometown heroes, and chatted with them after their triumphant return to a Toronto stage.
Gravity Wave’s Ken Farrell.
9:44 PM: Apparently, the doors (and sets) were earlier than we expected, as we arrive for Gravity Wave‘s closing number, “Ghost in The Machine.” It’s too bad; they put on a great show. Frontman and “Party Leader” Ken Farrell (above) has the crowd whipped up for their final tune: “I say R, you say AY! R!” “AY!!” the crowd shouts, “AY!!” Farrell goes way back with the headliners: he was bandmates with Banwatt and Cole in the defunct Clementine, and attended high school with Edenloff in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
10:19 PM: Rebekah Higgs and her band take the stage. Higgs, whose other project, Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, is an energetic dance outfit, brings the same enthusiasm to her more traditional rock songs, although she still uses tech like a looping pedal to back herself up with sweet harmonies. She charms the already packed crowd by telling them her second song “was written for my two-year-old nephew.”
10:24 PM: “Any east-coasters in the house?” asks Higgs, to a smattering of whoops. “Anyone who lived there in the ’90s? This is an Eric’s Trip song.” The band launches into a cover of “Behind the Garage.”
10:44 PM: Higgs and band wrap up their set. Lee’s Palace, which seemed full an hour ago, is now as rammed as we’ve ever seen it. Making it to the back bar from close to the stage takes a lot of patience.
11:00 PM: The stage is set for the RAA. Banwatt’s drum kit is deployed at stage left, facing centre, a set-up he also favours for Woodhands. Edenloff and Cole’s keyboards and mics are right up front; in fact, all three are positioned as close as possible to the front of the stage.
11:03 PM: The trio take the stage to thunderous applause and cheers. “You have no idea how happy we are to be here,” enthuses Edenloff. They launch into “Luciana.”
11:08 PM: For “Rush Apart,” Banwatt leaps from behind the drum kit and runs across the stage to join Cole on the upright drum—all that extra space comes in handy! He’s back behind his kit for the climax.
Rural Alberta Advantage drummer Paul Banwatt.
11:10 PM: If, as Cole told us pre-show, the band was nervous beforehand, they’re not showing it now. A year of touring and recording has instilled a lot of confidence in the trio.
11:14 PM: “If it’s cool with you guys, we’re going to try out a couple of new ones tonight,” declares Edenloff, as the band plays their first song from next spring’s Departing. “Muscle Relaxants” gets an enthusiastic reception—in fact, all the new material goes over well.
Edenloff thumps on his guitar’s soundboard for the close of “Frank, AB.”
11:18 PM: “This song’s about a rock slide,” says Edenloff, as the band begins “Frank, AB.” He ends up rushing to the back of the stage to switch guitars during the song’s bridge, but doesn’t quite manage to get his twine strap hooked on before he has to start strumming again. He finishes the song in a half crouch with the guitar resting on his thigh, and brings it almost vertical, like a cello, for his sparse, soundboard-thumping coda to the song (above).
11:24 PM: In a brief pause before “Four Night Rider,” Cole says, “It’s been a year since we last played here, really. We’ve played a lot this year, but never here! This is really exciting.” Banwatt wears a huge grin as he rips into the short song, and Cole’s hands are a blur as she hammers on the xylophone. The crowd gets really into this one, too, singing along, with a lot of pogo-ing (few people have room to move anywhere but vertically), and fist pumps.
11:34 PM: “This song’s about a tornado that went through Edmonton when I was young,” says Edenloff, as they launch into another new tune, “Tornado ’87.”
11:39 PM: Next up: “Stamp,” a song the RAA recently released for free as a teaser for Departing. (Live footage of tonight’s performance would be on YouTube by the next day.)
11:50 PM: “Barnes’ Yard,” which Edenloff was playing solo in 2009, is now a full-fledged number.
11:52 PM: “This is our last song,” announces Edenloff, to a chorus of good-natured boos. He laughs—”Even Paul’s booing me! Okay, we’ll go through the motions, and come right back, okay?” They launch into “The Deadroads,” a song that starts in fourth gear and stays there (pictured above).
11:55 PM: The band’s offstage for perhaps a minute before Edenloff comes back out and starts a cover of “Little Drummer Boy.” Cole and Banwatt join him shortly to fill out the song.
12:03 AM: After “Sleep All Day,” RAA’s oldest single,” Edenloff says: “Okay, this really is our last song…,” as they launch into “The Dethbridge in Lethbridge.” At its conclusion, he shouts, “Thanks very much! We have the new record in March, so we’ll be touring for that, and we’ll be back even sooner, trust us…”
Banwatt, Cole, and Edenloff backstage, moments after their triumphant hometown show’s encore.
We spoke with the band much later in the night, after a huge crowd of friends and well-wishers had paid their respects.
TORONTOIST: It’s been a year since you played Lee’s Palace last; that was a sold-out show, too, and there were plenty of people singing along then as well. What felt different for you tonight?
COLE: We started out more nervous, because it’s been so long, and we were playing a lot of new songs, and weren’t sure how they’d be received. But it felt great tonight; it’s always wonderful to play for old friends, and family.
EDENLOFF: We’ve done so much touring over the last year that it feels like we’ve gotten much better at playing together. I don’t even know how many shows it’s been, but it’s been a lot. We’ve done a lot of recording, too, so it’s been a busy year for us.
BANWATT: It felt amazing tonight! You never get over that kind of response.
TORONTOIST: They’re singing along when you’re playing in Europe, too.
BANWATT: Yes, but nothing like that. There, they’re into it, too, but when we play here…
COLE: We want to impress Toronto, because it’s where we’re from, and some people here have seen us when it was them and five other people in someone’s living room….the people who have seen us grow to this point, it’s so important for us to impress them again.
BANWATT: Just from the [merch booth] to backstage, when we were heading to do our set, five people wished me well, and said how excited they were. I was so ready to play by the time I got to the stage. When Nils said it was the last song, and people were booing, I agreed with them! [Turning to Edenloff:] What the hell, Nils, why would you do that to all of us? [Laughing].
EDENLOFF: It won’t be as long a wait again. We’re joining the bill for the Tranzac New Year’s Eve fundraiser, along with Laura Barrett, and we’ll be touring Departures in the spring. We’re looking forward to playing more in Toronto after being away for so long.
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.