One of the signature tracks on The Rural Alberta Advantage's recent album Departing is about a devastating tornado that hit Edmonton in 1987. So it's somehow appropriate that the Canadian trio barely escaped last week's tornado in St. Louis to bring its angsty, high-energy acoustic/electro-folk to Radio Radio on Saturday night, on the group's first trip to Indy since 2009.
The tornado song, "Tornado '87", seems to capture the essence of band's sound: a peculiar mix of regret and frustration, of looking back to the past for answers and finding pain and occasionally redemption.
RAA might sing about natural disasters, breakups, and fuzzy childhood memories, but the group is anything but emo. With lead singer/songwriter Nils Edenloff at the helm —visibly sweating by the end of the first song — the group got the crowd involved early and kept the pace loud and fast throughout its two hour set.
At times, Edenloff sounds eerily like Billy Corgan, so much so that it's hard to tell if their stuff is actually reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins. He played a gritty, down-strummed acoustic guitar, backed up by the spritely, gyrating — and gorgeous — Amy Cole on keyboard, with Paul Banwatt working the drums. And work he did. The kick-drum drove almost every song of RAA's heavy acoustic folk, which at times morphed seamlessly into electro-pop rhythms and synth work, and then back again to acoustic.
The fast-paced, up-tempo set was mixed evenly between songs from the new album as well as the group's first release, Hometowns (2008), such as its other notable disaster song, "Frank AB," about a rock-slide in an Alberta mining town in 1903.
The only break in the action came when Edenloff slowed things down to do an acoustic rendition of the theme song from an 80s-era Canadian children's T.V. show, "The Littlest Hobo," a wistful tune that seems like it could've been written by RAA itself, with the refrain "Someday I'll finally settle down, until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on."
L.A.-via-Michigan-based Lord Huron opened, led by founder and lead singer Ben Schneider (aka Lord Huron). Dressed to the nines in cutting-edge hipster duds, the group backed up their fashion statements with complex arrangements featuring three guitars, two- and three-part harmonies, bongo drums, a melodica and even a theremin. Their beachy, atmospheric, folk-rock sound bears resemblance to Panda Bear and My Morning Jacket.