The Rural Alberta Advantage functions as a highly-efficient machine, with each part working in tandem with the others to create a propulsive and energetic live atmosphere. At the center of Saturday night’s sold-out show was Nils Edenloff, his wistful songs about hometown Canadian life sung through his powerful nasal roar and played with a cutting acoustic guitar or a bell-toned keyboard. He had the habit of introducing most songs by telling a little story, which was charming. Edenloff sang with his sizable forehead furrowed and his stare resolute, leaning into the microphone until it bent upward, in which case Edenloff sang on tip-toes.
Grounding Edenloff was keyboardist Amy Cole, playing an entire octave of bass pedals and keys, singing harmonies and providing the occasional hand-clap. Cole’s performance was never flashy, but it was also never detached. She remained present and down to earth the entire time, laying a foundation for Edenloff’s high-powered songs, which came in equal parts from the band’s acclaimed debut, Hometowns (Saddle Creek), and its latest LP, Departing (Saddle Creek).
Then there was Paul Banwatt, one of the most electrifying indie-rock drummers I have ever seen. It was a brilliant move to put Banwatt on the same plane as Cole and Edenloff, instead of pushing his drums to the back. As a result, the band’s geometry was linear instead of triangular and gave the impression of an infantry frontline. Banwatt was a powerhouse, turning folk songs into rock barn-burners. Usually drummers are not entertaining to watch on their own, but Banwatt’s performance was just so much fun—he cracked his knuckles before exploding into a ridiculously fast and intricate drum pattern. He must have been counting to himself, as he was mouthing words that were not song lyrics. Normally drummers ground a band, but in this case Banwatt was transcendental, bringing a sense of urgency to the solid folk-rock outfit.
The performance was bare-bones and completely in service to Edenloff’s songs, and showed that the Rural Alberta Advantage has the chops to back up its songwriting aspirations. Hits like “Stamp” and “Don’t Haunt This Place” had the crowd singing along while Edenloff roared the lyrics, Cole played keys and Banwatt riffed ecstatically. This is a band that both radiates and thrives on energy.