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Departing from the Expected: The Rural Alberta Advantage Live at the Turner Hall Ballroom

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(Photos: The Rural Alberta Advantage)

Propelled by the vivacious drumming of Paul Banwatt, the Toronto-based trio The Rural Alberta Advantage (the RAA) blazed through a satisfying set of electronica-tinged folk rock at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom last night (October 15, 2014).

Banwatt’s performance was as eclectic as it was inspirational. His beats amalgamated so many different styles – from hip-hop to hard rock rhythms, from machine-like patterns to delicate hits, and everything in between – that they energized the entire set, which the RAA took from their three fine LPs, 2008’s Hometowns, 2011’s Departing, and 2014’s Mended with Gold.

“Stamp” – one of the strongest songs from the Polaris Prize-nominated Departing – featured a driving and fast Banwatt beat, which infected his bandmates, singer-guitarist-keyboardist Nils Edenloff and keyboardist-singer Amy Cole, to play with an intensity that made the already great song even better in its live incarnation. Edenloff sang and strummed with gusto, as Cole added compelling textures and spot-on backing vocals.


The intensity continued throughout the evening, with the RAA performing as if they were an eternal flame. “Terrified” (from Mended with Gold) was a galloping hard rock anthem, with perfectly executed tempo changes, Edenloff-Cole harmonies, and crushing guitar work and drumming.

Another new one – “On the Rocks” – found Edenloff in an experimental mood; his vocals were mechanically distorted to match the equally distorted noisy electronic dance music. But Cole was the true star of this track. Her keyboard provided the tune with a clear melody, and her backing vocals soared.


“Tornado ’87,” which remains one of the RAA’s finest songs from Departing, demonstrated Edenloff’s skill as a powerful lyricist and melodicist. Even though Cole and Banwatt were in more of a supporting role on this tune, they respectfully added keyboard ambiance and punchy drumming to augment Edenloff’s dark tale of self-loathing.

Whereas the RAA revisited their folk-punk roots on “The Dethbridge in Lethbridge” from Hometowns and reminded fans of what made the RAA so contagious in the first place, their performance of “Vulcan, AB” showed how much better they’ve gotten as songwriters and arrangers.


Led by Cole’s shimmering keyboard lines, Edenloff changed up the vocal melody throughout the tune and sang with confidence in many ranges. And Banwatt contributed an inventive drum performance that punctuated this atmospheric and moody number with seemingly incongruous beats that somehow fit right in. Cole’s stunning backing vocals were the finishing touch, indicating just why the RAA are, more than anything, a terrific band and not just an ensemble of three talented musicians.

The RAA show at the Turner is all the proof you need. It’s time for you to check out this high-octane trio for yourself.