SXSW ‘09: The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Central Presbyterian Church

Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage @ SXSW 2009
Central Presbyterian Church
Austin, TX
19 March 2009

Here I sit, front pew, center, balcony. I was here last night, lounging down near the altar in the children’s area, taking in St Vincent and Camera Obscura. This church, man, something about it. What a venue. Big ol’ stone church, stained glass galore. I’m not religious these days, but something about this venue is striking a nerve within. They’re booking the right acts for the venue, obviously no punk bands, no talking, no drinking…basically the opposite of the rest of the chaos happening all over the city outside and I’m into it, man. I feel this. I’m here an hour early for Grizzly Bear. Who are these Canucks playing first? Rural Alberta Advantage. The guy’s got a voice halfway between Colin Meloy and Stuart Murdoch. He’s playing the heart out of his acoustic guitar, literally driving the demons out and laying the money-changers to waste. One, two songs and I am fully into this. Sold. Solid. The set goes by way too fast and now they’re apparently going for an acoustic closer. “We’ve always wanted to play this in a church,” says (frontman) Nils Edenloff.

“Good night,” they sing, weaving through the crowd, all three of them now, halfway down the main aisle of the church, instruments in tow, “Good night.” This could go either way, it could be strong, it could be a mistake. Where’s it going? A couple of people giggle. Then the song fleshes out, and you realize they’re sort of saying good night to all of the crap that happens in life, and putting it all to bed. And then these words are belted:

Please look after my sister
Let her know that I miss her (tonight)
And I miss her more with time

The church is absolutely quiet now, all eyes watching the band. This moment, this church setting, this brief anecdote from Nils about how he’d once bicycled as far away from his home as possible, all suddenly conspire and strike – nay, suckerpunch – a chord deep within my chest. This is music grasping me as tightly as possible. This is music resonating within me, this is me, relating to music at its core. I think of my own sister. That is to say, I cannot stop thinking of her, now, here in this church in Austin

Please look after my sister

and how we haven’t lived in the same state for over 20 years, catching up once, twice a year at best

Let her know that I miss her (tonight)

and how I was the seriously annoying little brother during our formative years, the only years we would truly share, living within the same household, interacting on a daily basis, in this lifetime

And I miss her more with time

With an open and broken heart for the world the tears are now streaming down my cheeks in this church in central Austin. Who’s watching this spectacle? Nobody, all eyes glued to the band. So I’m crying, who cares. Laugh it up. Nils sings straight into my soul as I try to be casual about wiping my eyes. I’m checking into these guys and calling my sister tomorrow, this much I know.

Indoor Stage
Austin, TX
20 March 2009

The Wrens have just delivered a blistering noontime set at this “blogger-curated” party. Pretty sure nobody on the packed patio was expecting to feel such energy at noon today, but the Wrens killed, and everybody leaves charged. Bishop Allen’s up next. I’m going to go see who’s playing inside in the meantime, and lo and behold, there they are again: my new favorite band the RAA. They sound just as tight as they did the night before. They jump into “Drain the Blood” and again I feel the vocals/drums/guitar slap me in the face. Goddam.This guy wails, has a very piercing, borderline shrill wail. It hits me, then: this guy doesn’t sound like Colin, he doesn’t sound like Stuart, this guy is Jeff Mangum singing words that actually make sense. Mangum’s voice, bless it, manages to pierce my soul like no other, so it seems a natural this guy’s voice would do same. I enjoy the rest of their set and then resolve to talk to a couple of the band members. It’s not often that music hits me as powerfully as it did last night; in fact, it’s very rare, and though I suspect the church setting played no small part in the emotions channeled evening prior, I wish to give credit for the moment and must now thank Nils. I gotta shake that hand. He’s beyond cordial, and he tells me the lyrics are very close to him as well: they’re personal. We have a bit of a moment there in the Mohawk. “I’m buying your CD for my sister,” I say. “We’ve never recorded that song Good Night,” he counters. “Didn’t expect it to be on there – I’m STILL buying your CD for my sister,” comes my reply. Thank you, Nils. Thank you, RAA. Love you sis.

They’re not exactly reinventing the wheel with this music, but the CD is stellar. Do go pick it up and see them live, first chance you get.

» The Rural Alberta Advantage (official site)
» The Rural Alberta Advantage (myspace)

All photos by SUNG