by Tom Noonan
A guitar, a drum set, and a few keys. That’s a church. An eyes closed, veins exposed farewell. That’s religion. On Wednesday night, at First Unitarian, the Rural Alberta Advantage held an hour and a half communion with a true believing audience.
Along for the service were fellow countrymen July Talk, who made some formidable muck and mire by mixing gravel with spring rain. The gravel is a Tom Waits medium named Peter Dreimanis. The rain, a pristine and gleeful bubblegum subversion named Leah Fay. These two get a whole lot of mileage out of the same type of friction Fucked Up used to fuel David Comes to Life, only they run it through an even more historically problematic genre than hardcore punk: indie-Blues. This gives all their well-choreographed lyrical arguments a sense of direction and a gun. So much so that you worry for each of their stage persona’s safety.
Wednesday’s crowd didn’t feel ready to receive the show July Talk was putting on. We were operating at two different frequencies. Fay seemed to realize this, too, introducing the headlining band by reminding us, “It’s okay if you cry.” She wasn’t joking, exactly, but I could tell that she wished we’d be buying bandages at the end of the night instead of tissues.
After July Talk filed off, the RAA set up their church: the guitar, the drums, the keys, and opened up a few hymns. The first of which, Departing standout “Stamp”, played like a barreling synopsis for the uninitiated. “Well all young lovers/You’ll find another/I will save you/But I don’t need you.” Nils Edenloff, the band’s lead singer, has mastered the succinct burst of lyrical catharsis. He only needs one or two lines to knock you on your ass. Edenloff is also something of a prism poet, which means he invokes trigger words like “love” and “afraid” so that you might begin to see your own memories in his.
Elsewhere, the band pulled up the tempo during the verses in “Our Love…”, which made its stomping chorus take aim at my gut. There was also a re-energized take of “Don’t Haunt This Place” that successfully ditched the subduing meds of the studio version. Then there was Paul Banwatt, who consistently fills up the drummer stat sheet on every RAA record, but was a revelation live. He doesn’t just fill; he scoops and carries and scores. Watching the work he put in on “On the Rocks” Wednesday reminded me of Travis Barker, only Banwatt was handling something that could break. His touch is what separates him. He’s usually going at 10-20x the speed of his bandmates, but his pulse is right in time with theirs. He’s a hurricane with a sense of style.
The set ended in the center of the crowd, with Nils, Paul, and Amy joining the congregation to close out the night playing the song they should probably end every night with. It’s called “Goodnight”, and it flickers in and out of sharp focus like the wick of a burning candle. Nils brought his guitar along. Paul, his kick drum. Amy, her voice and a tambourine. Even with spare parts, lit by the flashes of a few eager cell phones, we still had a church.