Monday, November 23rd, 2009
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Bahamas and Fox Jaws at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangIt was just 51 weeks ago that The Rural Alberta Advantage first stepped onto the stage at Lee’s Palace, there as support for a co-headlining show featuring two of the most lauded indie acts in Canada – The Acorn and Ohbijou. They seemed a bit awed by the scale of their surroundings, having mostly played the smaller, cozier rooms of the city to that point, but were far from intimidated and deliver another wonderful set and as I commented at the time, “I’ve long said that people simply need to hear them to love them, and I think it’s finally happening”. Now I’m not going to suggest that I have any particular soothsaying abilities, but on that point, I daresay I nailed it.
The past year has been a fairy tale for the trio, particularly the last six months or so in which they’ve gone from local heroes to genuine international (hey, America counts as a foreign country) phenomenons, re-releasing their debut album Hometowns on a major independent label and touring the continent multiple times over, selling out larger and larger venues each time out and gaining fans and accolades along the way – people hear them and they love them. Simple. So while their completely sold-out hometown show at Lee’s Palace on Friday night didn’t mark the end of their whirlwind 2009 – they commence another US tour the second week of December – it did provide a tidy, full-circle point for those of us predisposed to tidiness in such matters.
Opening the night was Barrie’s Fox Jaws, whom I hadn’t seen since August 2007 circa their debut Goodbye Doris. They’ve since released their second record and despite the epic-length title – At Odds (or: Exercises In Separation While United In The Fall) – low-frills, spirited and soulful pop-rock is still the order of the day. The raw and raspy vocals of Carleigh Aikens remains their super power but in a sense, it’s also their kryptonite. It’s so evocative of the blues-rock belters synonymous with classic rock radio that even when they try to expand their sound beyond the more straight-ahead, it tends to overpower. Still, it’s not the worst problem to have and when they play to their strengths, they put on an impressive and entertaining show.
Though I’d never seen Bahamas before, their scorecard started at a handicap. I’d seen principal Afie Jurvanen a couple times some years back, both solo and fronting Paso Mino, and hadn’t been impressed so while I was wiling to give his newest project a fair shake, it was going to be a tough sell. And the boxscore went something like this: points lost for the popped collar on the lumberjack shirt, points lost for the affected, stoner-dude banter (the “nice, nice” shtick isn’t working) , points gained for a couple of really funny jokes despite the aforementioned demerit though it’s worth noting that he was only genuinely funny when he strayed off script and actually interacted with the audience, points gained for some seriously tasty guitarwork, points gained for having better and more memorable songs than from what I recall from his past shows, points gained for playing a funky old Silvertone rather than the titular Pink Strat of his album, massive points gained for starting to cover Prince’s “Purple Rain”, all points lost for not following through with it – only delivering a couple of verses and ditching it only a little ways into the solo. I know he could have knocked it out of the park, but instead just walked away. Such a shame.
By this point, I think I should be disqualified from trying to offer up any review of an RAA show – I’ve seen them too many times (this was occasion eight or nine) and have too much affection for them as individuals and their music to even try and pretend to be objective. So with that disclaimer in mind, take my declaration that they put on yet another great show for whatever you think it’s worth. Set up in line across the front of the Lee’s stage, the trio were visibly overwhelmed by the size and fervor of the congregation of folks who’d come out to see them. And it’s understandable – as recently as this Spring, they would play constantly around the city and while always appreciated, were probably taken for granted some. But to so quickly be in a situation where outside scalpers were plying their trade and inside the fans were jumping up and down and singing along to every word – that’s a trip.
Over the course of the hour-long set, all of Hometowns was aired (save for “The Air”) and though they’ve been working that material for as long as I’ve been following the band – nigh on three years now – they still perform it with as much energy as emotion as ever and just as they don’t seem to tire of playing the songs, I still don’t tire of hearing them played. That said, it was exciting to hear more and more new material working its way into the set – some of the songs more fully evolved than others, but all carrying the trademark RAA sound and style. With the new year bringing even more touring for the band, it’s hard to say when they’ll have a chance to get down to recording album number two, but you can hardly fault them for wanting to keep riding this wave, which shows no signs of abating. After all, as the cover of The Littlest Hobo theme which they slipped in mid-set says, “Down this road that never seems to end, where new adventure lies just around the bend… Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down, until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on”. There may already be a “Ballad Of The RAA” but for the moment, this is their song.
Photos: The Rural Alberta Advantage, Bahamas, Fox Jaws @ Lee’s Palace – November 20, 2009
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”
MP3: Fox Jaws – “Karmonica”
MP3: Fox Jaws – “Quarantine Girl”
MySpace: The Rural Alberta Advantage
MySpace: Fox Jaws
The Von Bondies, last seen in these parts tearing up the tiny Boardwalk Stage at V Fest, have set a December 5 date at the El Mocambo as part of a benefit show for Toronto’s homeless. Tickets are $15 in advance, donations of winter coats or blankets gratefully accepted.