Concert Review: Live at Massey Hall – The Rural Alberta Advantage and Great Lake Swimmers

The Rural Alberta Advantage
Backstage @ Massey Hall

When I found out that Massey Hall (my all time favourite Toronto venue) would be hosting a series dedicated to Canadian artists, I was very, very excited.  Running from May to July, this incredible lineup was set to feature Timber Timber, Cold Specs, Cœur de pirate, Bry Webb, Great Lake Swimmers, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Basia Bulat and Destroyer.  To up the amazing factor, all tickets were going for a mere $18.94! Needless to say I bought a couple, and figured I’d report on some of the magic.

On Tuesday, July 8th I made my way towards Massey Hall amidst a thunderstorm.  Although I typically despise commuting in the rain, I knew the sounds that would soon flood the venue would make up for the wet feet and damp clothing.  Once I got out of the subway, the sky cleared in perfect timing and I entered the venue.

Now, I have seen countless shows at Massey Hall, but this was very different from any other.  The lights were dim, but not off, which created a warm and intimate atmosphere.  Since the performance was part of Live at Massey Hall the entire set was being recorded, and no audience photographs were permitted.  After a shout out to the event sponsors everyone was politely asked to stow their phones away, and the crowd was able to be  immersed without distraction.

Within minutes of the lights being dimmed The Rural Alberta Advantage made their way to the stage.  Although the band is comprised of only three individuals (singer/songwriter Nils Edenloff,  singer/multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole, and percussionist Paul Banwatt) the sound and energy they produced was insanely powerful.  For the entire show I was mesmerized by their presence, and the way they each brought life to the stage.  The way Amy sung, danced, and played barefoot, switching between keys, xylophone, drums, and tambourine was amazing!  Nils sung his heart out, trekking through some minor technical difficulties that resulted in a clapping fest, the crowd going wild and a standing ovation.  Paul drummed with such ferocity that he got the crowed literally jumping out of their seats.  Their energy was so contagious that some were in a trance.  I can attest to this first hand, as I watched my boyfriend drum to the beat for nearly half the set on the seat in front of him, accidentally hitting a man’s shoulder several times before either of them realized what was going on.  During the intermission they laughed about this, blaming their obliviousness on the RAA trance.

The Rural Alberta Advantage played through an impressive amount of short but powerful songs.  Blending old with new, Nils introduced several of the songs with some backstory which really made the show feel intimate.  Stand out tracks included Tornado ’87 (perfect considering the weather conditions outside), Two Lovers (which was played solo, center stage), and Terrified (a new track bursting with melodic and musical force). After getting a taste for some of the amazing songs to come, I can’t wait to hear the rest of their new album Mended With Gold set to be released September 30, 2014.

After playing a solid hour and hearing the crowd go wild, RAA left the stage and we anxiously waited for the next amazing act: Great Lake Swimmers.  After the changeover was complete, the lights again dimmed and Great Lake Swimmers made their way to the stage.  Comprised of front man Tony Dekker,  backing vocals and talented violin player Miranda Mulholland, Erik Arnesen on electric guitar and fawned after banjo,  Bret Higgins on the impressive up right bass, and Joshua Van Tassel on drums, the band formed a circle center stage.   Without wasting any time they began playing, and right away the venue took on a totally different atmosphere.   Calm, light and airy, Great Lake Swimmers soothed the audience with their lovely folky sound.  The melody was transporting, the music was breezy, and the crowd was transfixed.

Although the entire performance was fantastic, I’d say the highlight came about halfway through the set when the Banjo was picked up by Erik and the classic “Your Rocky Spine” was played.  You could see the sea of heads swaying and the hum of voices singing along.  After they finished the set, a pleased crowed necessitated an encore, and we left smiling ear to ear.

Having been part of Live at Massey Hall I can honestly say was one of the most amazing concert experiences to date.  I am now even more eager for Thursday’s show with Basia Bulat and Destroyer, the final set in this amazing series.

Review by Nadia Kaakati |

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