Saturday, August 01, 2009

Review: RAA, Hooded Fang, Wilderness of Manitoba @ The Horseshoe, 30 July.

I'm taking a rare weekend night off from the local music scene. No particular reason: just feeling a little tired and wanting to spend some time by myself. It affords an opportunity to do some organizing, and---as a break from that---tell you about last night.

The Rural Alberta Advantage played at the Horseshoe, to a sold out, jam-packed crowd of friends new and old. It was their "hometown" CD release for Hometowns, the album they put out independently in early 2008, but have now re-released on Saddle Creek, their new US record label. They've been touring the US this summer, after earning a lot of buzz when they opened for Grizzly Bear in a church during SxSW. Their beautiful, exciting record got heard by thousands of new people thanks to eMusic back in November. And the band's been on the up-and-up since then. But us here in Toronto have known we had a treasure for some time. And so, more than 4 months after their last Toronto show, the RAA came back to us.

The night started off appropriately lovely, with the gorgoeous vocal harmonies and instrumentation of a newer Toronto band, The Wilderness of Manitoba. Some of the members of this band had hosted the RAA at their home back in March, and Nils, Amy, and Paul must have liked what they heard then and invited the WOM to perform last night. The band seemed both comfortable and a little nervous about performing in front of so many people on the relatively large Horseshoe stage. Very quickly they created a happy, calm mood with their nature-inspired songs. At moments they reminded me of Fleet Foxes; at others, of Great Lake Swimmers. "Evening" was a set highlight, as was their last song, whose name I don't know. (Sorry, oops.) The mix was a bit off, and the instrument changes between songs took a second or two too long for my tastes, but I chalk that up to a venue like the Horseshoe not being super familiar with their vocal-heavy, acoustic sound, and the band's lack of experience in playing bigger shows. Overall, a pleasing opening set that made them a good number of new fans, no doubt. As I write this I'm listening to their first EP. It's not yet officially out, but those of us at the show got a chance to pick it up. It's great. I may listen to it all night. I look forward to seeing how this band develops.

Next up was Hooded Fang, another local band with a very Canadian name. This group specializes in pop, and came out of nowhere in 2008 to blow the local music scene away with their happy energy and catchy hooks. Not to mention the strong vocals of leads Daniel Lee and Lorna Wright, and good musicianship showcased in their recorded output. Last night the band---whose female members dressed for the celebratory occasion that it was---performed many of the songs off its self-titled EP, as well as some new ones that will presumably appear on their full-length, coming out this fall. A new release from Hooded Fang makes me happy. Unfortunately, the band was rather low-energy last night. Their lack of pep meant they couldn't keep the attention of some of the people up at the front (where I was), and it's really too bad. Perhaps it was nerves, because by the last song a few more of the band members seemed into what they were doing. If they'd had that energy all night, it would have been a fantastic set.

Last up was of course the stars of the evening, the reason why we all paid $13 or more to be there, and why the show sold out even before the first band started playing. The road has done wonders for this always-strong band. I fall in love all over again with the RAA every time I see them, but last night was extra special. Amy Cole's backing vocals were stronger than ever, piercing or blending in with the songs perfectly; Paul Banwatt's inventive, exciting drumming was on better display than ever (helped by a stage set up that had him in a row with his bandmates); and Nils Edenloff's singing was more confident and his banter less awkward (but still endearing). The crowd was jubilant and singing along, and the band was thrilled with the turnout. It was super hot in there, but I didn't really mind. The only negative---other than the drunken few causing a bit of trouble at the front---was that the show wasn't particularly intimate, so we didn't get to hear "Goodnight," a live-only song they perform once in a while, as appropriate. Ah well, I can't have everything.

Oh, RAA, you are amazing. We loved you before, but you looked and sounded completely at home playing for 350 or so people in a way that I did not expect. (Silly me.) What a great way to celebrate your years of hard work and more recent acclaim. It seems a bit strange to me that a band I've seen 15 or so times here in Toronto pretty quickly got much bigger than they were, played a bunch of shows elsewhere, and then came back even better than they were before. And yet there you have it. How exciting.

[Photo credit: Thanks to suckingalemon for the top photo of Nils. There were lots of good photographers at this gig, and a few other local bloggers. Eye and NOW were there, too.]


Bobby B said...

Great review of what will likely be remembered as an historical show in the local Toronto music scene.

historyjen said...

Thanks Bob! I'm looking forward to your review :-).
The RAA were really fantastic and WOM impressed me so much! Did you get to pick up a disk?

The R.O.B. said...

Sad that I missed it... do you guys have any word on whether the RAA has a follow up to Hometowns is in the works?

historyjen said...

Yes, one is in the works. Probably won't be out for a while yet.

suckingalemon said...

btw i just put up my photos. it's all film cause i had to use up the roll in my camera.