They left the stage matted in cinnibar; red from spilled hearts, a blinding and heartfult gush. The Rural Alberta Advantage tumbled into St. Matthew’s in a seething rush of sincerity. From the moment they graced the stage, they were mesmerizing. Grinning backwards and forwards, the trio rushed the stage in an exuberant optimism, launching full-force into breakneck speed introspection with a hailstorm of pounding rhythm.
Multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole leapt about serenely in bare feet, parading a silken sheet of nymph-like wonder as she threw weightless hands to keyboards and covertly clouded us with jangled tambourine and jabbed floor toms, all the while effortlessly sliding slender feet over flanged organ bass pedals, filling the creaking church with lurching low-end.
With the staccato push and pull of anthemic Hometowns number “Drain the Blood” bouncing around the stained glass, the wide-eyed congregation stood and mouthed the words, making it mean something, but reluctant to disturb the proceedings. The crowd was rabid, clapping along and climbing around in their seats. Even the air was unable to sit still as the wiry, ragged optimism rattled around the wooden walls. “I’m so glad you guys actually participate,” laughed vocalist and guitar Nils Edenloff, elated at the captivated crowd as he hopped and hammered away at the rustic and rambling “Rush Apart”.
The purebread musicality of Halifax was painfully apparent as the entire church clapped with every devilishly upbeat tempo, annunciating Paul Banwatt’s frenetic off-beats and beating down hard on the two and four with Amy Cole flailing sticks and dancing literal circles around the others.
The band thundered through the majority of their two-album career, dusting off such intimate integrals as the haunting and mercilessly beautiful “Don’t Haunt This Place” and embracing the reckless but brief insanity of Departing‘s jangly, jarring first single “Stamp”. Carefully throwing us the throwbacks of our youth in the engrossing rendition of “Eye of the Tiger” (the second cover St. Matthew’s saw at this year’s Pop Explosion), an amourous interpetation of a Leonard Cohen classic and a sombre, solipsistic delivery of the Littlest Hobo theme, the band carefully and wistfully fleshed out an already breathtaking repretoire.
They spoke briefly, but eulogized their indiscretions and framed friends as frames of reference. They were stripped and raw, trawling the crowd for their enthusiasm as we stomped along and stopped giving a shit about anything else. They had us in their pockets and yet they insisted on giving thanks, exclaiming their debt to us. We stood, bewildered, as they walked off-stage, only to return to the deafening roar of a Halifax standing ovation and launch into the overwhelming one-two punch of the youthful, drug-addled “Barnes’ Yard” and apocalyptic and tearful nostalgia of “Deadroads” before throwing down the gauntlet and throwing on the lights as they left the stage and forged a path directly into the audience.
With heartfelt thanks pouring from every pore, they took a bow and thanked us all again: “I’m glad we’re in such an amazingly intimate setting,” said Edenloff. “I’m glad we can play this song tonight,” he grinned as a hush fell and they broke into an ending elegy; singing and swaying the blissful and strung-out vesper “Goodnight,” the entire building stood perfectly still with glitters of tears and dared not to breathe or move.