Live Review: So-So Sailors, The New Pornographers, Rural Alberta Advantage; Back When, Little Brazil, Yuppies tonight; Kite Pilot Saturday…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 10:44 am April 22, 2011
The So-So Sailors at The Waiting Room, April 21, 2011.

The So-So Sailors at The Waiting Room, April 21, 2011.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I doubt that very many people were at The Waiting Room last night specifically to see The So-So Sailors. In fact, I ran into an old friend who was sitting in the back booths during their set as if no band was playing at all, ignoring them altogether. I can’t say that I blame him as he had no idea who they were or why he should be listening. He was there for the Pornos. Still, he missed out on the most interesting part of the night, to me anyway.

The New Pornographers at The Waiting Room, 4/21/11.

The New Pornographers at The Waiting Room, 4/21/11.

Don’t get me wrong, New Pornographers were pretty special. Presented as a 7-piece with uber-star Neko Case along for the ride looking like she just got back from the Laundromat in her hoodie and wind-blown red witch hair. Even without makeup and with tired, older eyes she still looked good to me. And she sang good, too, even though she didn’t own the spotlight (that was leader Carl Newman’s job). You can’t beat Neko being “only” part of your band, no stronger or weaker then the other six members who reached back for some oldies but played what you expected from Together. They sounded terrific, just like they do on their records, and the sold-out crowd dug it.

So-So Sailors, who played right before them, will never be as big as New Pornographers. Probably not, though I admit to enjoying their short, 30-minute set just as much (or more) than what I saw of NP’s. Frontman Chris Machmuller sat behind a keyboard backed by Dan McCarthy who sat behind another keyboard backed by Ben Brodin who sat behind yet another keyboard. And they were backed by the incomparable Alex McManus on guitar. Standing dead center (and the center of attention, whether he deserved it or not) was bass player / backing vocalist Brendan Greene-Walsh, with Laura Burhenn to his left  (just back from touring with Bright Eyes) and Dan Kemp on drums. That’s all of them. And what you got with three keyboards is a very organic, very earthy sound, augmented by Mach’s brassy warble and his occasional alto sax solo. The music really is unlike anything being played around here. It sounds humble. It sounds soulful. It sounds very Sunday afternoon after a long Saturday night. A song like the amazing “Young Hearts,” which was the centerpiece of their set, can’t be compared to anything that I can think of. Mach said that they’ve finished recording their debut album, but he didn’t know when it was coming out. Hopefully sometime soon, and hopefully on Saddle Creek or some other label with its reach, though I’m not holding my breath.

The Rural Alberta Advantage at Slowdown Jr., 4/21/11.

The Rural Alberta Advantage at Slowdown Jr., 4/21/11.

Anyway… after the first eight or nine songs by New Pornographers, I got a text from one of my Reader colleagues saying that Lord Huron had just finished at Slowdown and that Rural Alberta Advantage was up next. So I trotted  out to my car and onto Radial Highway and made my way down to Slowdown. I got there just in time to catch RAA’s entire set. The show wasn’t sold out, but it was plenty full with a crowd whose average age was a good 15 years younger than what I’d seen at TWR. New Pornographers are the vets; RAA are the up-and-comers. I’m not going to compare the two and declare a victor in this Canadian invasion, but I will say I was happy I made the trip downtown. For the first time I started “to get” RAA and what they’re about.

A thin trio, here’s a band that glows in an intimate setting like Slowdown Jr. rather than on an outdoor stage like their gig last June in Slowdown’s parking lot. Frontman Nil Edenloff pushed every inch of his life into his vocals as he viciously strummed his acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, pixie-ish beauty Amy Cole performed a plate-spinning act as she sang, played keyboards and punched out a bass line with her feet on her Moog Taurus III bass pedals. I asked her last week if they ever would consider getting a bass player and she said no way. But while I liked what she was doing, I still think they could use an extra set of strings. They played a number of songs from their new album, Departed, including a rousing version of my personal fave, “Tornado ’87.”

Halfway through the set, Edenloff thrilled the crowd with a surprisingly earnest acoustic solo version of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” I think a lot of people knew it was coming as the song got raves when they played it at SF’s Bottom of the Hill last week. If there was a weak spot in their game it’s that too many of their songs sound alike, and after a half-dozen, they begin to blend together into one extended, rousing ballad.

* * *

Easter weekend is never a good weekend for shows, and this year’s is no exception.

The highlight is tonight’s red-hot rock show at The Waiting Room. But first at 7 p.m. at TWR is an early show — The Found Footage Festival, a collection of seriously bad but funny commercially developed videos gathered from VHS tapes collected at various garage sales and thrift stores. Check out foundfootagefest.com for more info. $10. The late show starts at 9 p.m., headlined by Back When and featuring Little Brazil, Talking Mountain and Self Evident, all for just $7.

Meanwhile, down the street at The Barley Street Tavern, The Yuppies are headlining a show with Baby Tears, High Diving Ponies and Death of a Tax Payer. $5, 9 p.m. Saturday night, John Klemmensen and the Party are playing at The Barley Street with Tina Sparkle and Traveling Mercies. $5, 9 p.m.

Also Saturday night, Honey & Darling are playing at O’Leaver’s with The Empty Spaces and Blue Lights Shine Bright. $5, 9:30  p.m.

And that’s just about it for the weekend. Except, of course, for Big Al’s annual “Free Music Festival,” being held tonight through Easter evening at The Hideout, 320 So. 72nd St. As the name implies, there’s no cover charge. Line-up / info here. Shows start at 8:30.

ADDENDUM: I almost forgot one of the most interesting shows of the weekend: The long-awaited return of Kite Pilot, opening for Thunder Power at Harrah’s Stir Lounge Saturday night. $5, 9 p.m. Go!

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i

Lazy-i Interview: The Rural Alberta Advantage’s Amy Cole; Canadian Invasion tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , — @ 12:26 pm April 21, 2011
The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage

Dodging Traffic and Tornadoes with The Rural Alberta Advantage

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The Rural Alberta Advantage’s keyboard player, Amy Cole, had every reason for sounding distracted.

You try riding through road-rage fueled traffic on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles in a van pulling a trailer while the rest of your band is shouting directions in the background — the same silver 2003 Dodge Caravan, incidentally, which carried The Rural Alberta Advantage to Omaha for the first time two years ago.

Now just two years later, the band was headed to Coachella to kick off the festival’s outdoor stage. “It’s really important to us,” Cole said of Coachella. “We’re excited to be on the bill with all these other artists. It’s crazy to us that we’re allowed to be part of it.”

Amy Cole

Amy Cole

Her modesty is somewhat out of place, especially when you consider that the band’s first album, Hometowns, was lauded with an 8.0 by indie tastemaker Pitchfork, who called them “the best unsigned band in Canada before Saddle Creek snapped them up.” The trio’s sophomore effort, Departing, released just last month on Saddle Creek, is even more thoughtful, more tuneful, more refined than its predecessor.

Something tells me the hip Coachella crowd is going to drink up their whirling-dervish-on-the-verge-of-spinning-out-of-control stage vibe. Cole said she hadn’t thought much about Coachella. “We’ve been on tour,” she said. “We’ll probably talk about the set list tonight.”

Just the night before the band finished the second of two sold-out nights at the 350-capacity Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, one of the bay area’s most famous clubs. If there’s a difference between ’09 and now, it’s the number of shows The RAA now plays and the number of people turning out for them. “Everything is increasing, but it doesn’t feel different,” Cole said. “The energy feels the same.”

Just then a muffled shout of “He’s standing right there” came from someone else in the van, maybe RAA frontman Nils Edenloff or drummer Paul Banwatt. Cole broke off the interview for a moment, explaining that they we’re trying to pick up her boyfriend from in front of a hotel. Confused noise ensued. Doors opened and shut. And then, muted laughter.

“OK I’m back, what did you ask me?” I got the feeling I was getting in the way of a long-awaited reunion, loving hugs and much-needed catching up. Instead, here was Cole having to “deal with” some music writer in Omaha. I probably would have just hung up on me.

Instead, she talked about how life on the road is the worst part of being in a band. There’s no question that you’re going to miss a lot when you play a couple hundred shows over the course of two years.

“Being away from your friends and family is hard,” she said. “You’re missing out on the stuff that other people get to do, but at the same time, not everyone gets to do this. It’s never 100 percent fun all the time, but we still enjoy what we’re doing, playing songs for people.”

The Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing (Saddle Creek, 2011)

The Rural Alberta Advantage, Departing (Saddle Creek, 2011)

We abruptly switched gears. Cole told me that making the new album was in some ways similar to making their debut. Producer Roger Leavens again was along for the ride. But unlike that first album, where they had four months to record it with no set deadline and no label breathing down their necks, Cole said they had to consider getting something to Saddle Creek.

“This time we did a lot more writing and recording simultaneously,” she said. “Whereas Hometowns had already been written, and we’d been performing the songs for years (before entering the studio). This time people are hearing the songs for the first time.”

One exception is “Tornado ’87.”

“That one we’ve been playing live a long time,” Cole said. “It was a keyboard-driven song that we tried to record before, but it never sounded right. Then one day we tried it on guitar…”

The song was inspired by a freak F5 tornado that struck Edmonton on July 31, 1987, killing 27 people and laying waste to 300 houses. Over simple acoustic guitar, Edenloff croons, “Oh Lord I lost you I held you tight / Oh I will hold onto your love in the night / And the black sky will come before our eyes / Oh I let’s lay down in the basement tonight.” And then Banwatt cracks out rifle-shot drums, as Cole lays on keyboards and her own wind-swept vocals.  The song has RAA’s trademark dust-devil sound that’s garnered comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel and Deer Tick, among others.

Cole said the once dreaded song has become a favorite of hers, and is especially meaningful in places like Nebraska, which are susceptible to just such meteorological occurrences. Unlike RAA’s home of Toronto.

There certainly was no chance of any tornadoes striking Indio, California. “We rented a house and plan on spending the whole weekend at the festival,” Cole said, “at least when we’re not lounging around the pool. It’ll be nice to stay in one place for awhile.”

The Rural Alberta Advantage plays with Lord Huron and Gus & Call Thursday, April 21, at Slowdown Jr. Tickets are $10. Show starts at 9 p.m.

* * *

The New Pornographers and The Rural Alberta Advantage — two highly acclaimed Canadian bands — are playing separate shows tonight in Omaha’s two primary indie rock performance establishments. Surely there was a good reason why these two shows weren’t joined together as one gigantic Canadian Invasion Rock Show. Instead, Omaha’s small and rather exclusive indie music audience will be split between the two shows, with The New Pornos getting the lion’s share of the crowd — that show, which is being held at The Waiting Room, has been sold out for awhile now. Meanwhile, tickets are still available for The RAA show at Slowdown Jr. Combining the shows would have given some much-needed exposure to The RAA, but like I said, I’m sure the organizers had their reasons. Each band knows that the other is playing somewhere else in the city (thanks, in part, to me), though Cole thought that the Pornos show was being held at Slowdown in a different room!

Anyway, the details are these:

The New Pornographers play tonight at The Waiting Room with The So-So Sailors at 9 p.m. The show is sold out.

The Rural Alberta Advantage plays tonight at Slowdown Jr. with Lord Huron and Gus & Call. Tickets at $10 and the show starts at 9 p.m.
I intend to be at both shows at the same time. I still haven’t figured out how to do it, but there must be some technology that can make it happen.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Lazy-i