Live Review: The Rural Alberta Advantage + Zoon, Lafayette, London – 4th December 2023

After over 15 years as a trio, with five albums plus a trio of EPs, the three members of Rural Alberta Advantage (namely, Nils Edenloff – lead vocals, guitar, keyboard; Amy Cole – multi-instrumentalist and vocalist and Paul Banwatt on drums) feed off each other effortlessly and after a five-year absence from Europe are visibly energised to be returning to tour their impressive new album ‘The Rise and The Fall’ which provides about half of the set tonight.  Lockdown was a major limiting factor in their recent lives – as well as the vast distances to travel in Canada, the country had a strict containment policy that it kept in place for an extended period.

It seems there is a good core of their compatriots in the house tonight as the songs with place name titles or references receive extra cheers and there are many stalwarts who are clearly familiar with all but the very newest material. This gig, just a moose jaw’s throw from St Pancras station, closes the UK leg of the tour before they head off for various mainland Europe gigs. If you imagine a slightly more brazen Hiss Golden Messenger baked in with a less bombastic Arcade Fire then you might come up with something akin to the RAA sound.

They perform a very rare opening gambit by starting off as a triangular unplugged cluster amidst the audience on the floor, and only as they conclude the first song ‘Father Son and the Holy ghost (FSHG)’ do they nonchalantly climb the stage. It’s disarming and undoubtedly a winning ploy from the outset. Next up is the pounding ‘Candu’ with Cole adding a second drum beat to the mix. There is a pulsating triplet of songs played in sequence, ‘Three Sisters’, ‘Torn’ and ‘Vulcan’, the latter (a town’s name) drawing on the prairie skies to mirror the singer’s internal desolate space.

With just the trio on stage it requires each member to contribute a high physical input and each instrument is up front and centre throughout with almost no respite. With this set-up, the harmonised vocals of Cole and Edenloff are a consistently alluring feature of their music. That said, midset, Edenloff gives Cole and Banwatt a brief time out and performs ‘Wake Up’, a solo song. Inspired by his wife during a covid lockdown it is dedicated to her and, uniquely in his writing experience, he composed it in his wife’s presence as she narrates a dream to him. It is a poignant rendition.

Like other Canadian bands they do have the benefit (advantage even) of their expansive and inspiring home landscape to draw on and they name-check several towns and cities that break up the prairies, mountains and plains. Their songs are tightly packed, around three minutes each, such that, even with a couple of verbal banters, they canter through seventeen in just over an hour. ‘White Light’ is a highlight with its sing-along melody that many in the audience contribute to and in similar rousing style is ‘Brother’.  ‘Edmonton’ is named for the Albertan capital which is the setting for personal anxiety “What if I’m only happy when I’m not home.” The main set closes with ‘Terrified’, raising the tempo and the band create quite a sweep of guitars and keyboards in extending the song to a rare RAA six-minute epic.

Support is provided by Zoon, which is the latest and perhaps best-acclaimed incarnation of indigenous Canadian musician Daniel Monkman. They (the identified pronoun) have had a diverse pathway through life from a relatively isolated First Nations reserve in Selkirk, Manitoba to – the latest city – Toronto. The word shoegaze is the easy but not inaccurate one-word indicator of the sound though that’s certainly no pejorative in this case. The hazy guitar and interwoven contributions from the backing band produce resonating songs. ‘Bekka Ma’iingan’ is the second album from Zoon which has been deservedly well received. The indigenous sound has been largely absorbed within what one would call mainstream indie-folk-rock, and, cultural backstory aside, the music stands on its own qualities.  There is an array of tech effects items on the front of the stage though the sound was most engaging when kept to the relative basics of strings (including electric cello) and drums plus, at various parts of the songs (the 45-minute set had around 5 fairly lengthy pieces), vocals. Monkman gives a potted summary of their musical career to date and seems deeply delighted to have the chance and support to tour the new material internationally and to have it so well received tonight.

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