Celebrating the release of their fourth full length record “The Wild,” Toronto area folk rock alternative band Rural Alberta Advantage (The RAA) returned to Ottawa for the first time since their much celebrated Dragon Boat Festival performance over two years ago.
The Paper Bag Records’ indie darlings have been on the receiving end of tremendous notoriety, critical praise and a growing audience over the last couple of years since the heralded release of their previous record Mended With Gild.
Kicking off their tour with Yukon Blonde (most Canadian band names ever, I know) in St. John’s, Newfoundland late last week, the band was still finding their groove on Tuesday night at the Bronson Centre. Touring is dramatically different than one off performances. A single night performance includes intense rehearsal and a more contrived atmosphere with a mostly measurable outcome. Playing a new city every night means fatigue and less polish while a band has to read their audience on the fly.
To their credit, the band did exactly that, and they did so famously. Scrapping long-time show closers like “Goodnight” for more raucous numbers about Lethbridge, Alberta, Nil and his cohorts kept the audience on their toes.
As the show went on Nil’s voice began to leave him, which was never more apparent than during a very melancholy acoustic solo version of “The North Star” (from their second album Departing). And while his voice cracked and creaked, it actually made for a really beautiful and memorable moment for longtime fans (this was my ninth RAA concert experience). The melancholy and modesty matched the stripped down vulnerability of a singer and his song, belting his heart out until his voice collapses for an adoring fan base of music lovers who gleefully share Canada’s best kept secret with a growing ensemble of first time listeners at every concert.
There is a rawness on songs like “Brother” that almost harken back bygone sounds of folk punk bastions like The Weakerthans, while Nil’s unique mix of Billy Corgan and Gord Downie-esque vocals and starkly Canadian stories tend to keep you gazing and glued, plugged into the passionate display.
This is a band that you need to know if you don’t already. Shawn Scallen and the Spectrasonic crew deserve a lot of credit for continuing to bring talent of this calibre to the capital region.