Inhabiting as they do the mid-point between the bleary-eyed, fiercely American rock of The National and the heart-on-sleeves modern emo of Saddle Creek label mates Bright Eyes, The Rural Alberta Advantage appear to have crafted the perfect sound for crossing over into mainstream interest, and yet on the trail of their second full-length 'Departing' things are yet to truly click into place for the Toronto, Ontario based trio.
Which may be a blessing, both for the band and their fan-base, as their percussion-led wispy, but never whiny, Americana excels in the confines of a room that feels cosy for an audience of a hundred. It has an intimate, hushed quality despite the velocity of Paul Banwatt's drum rolls and the volume and passion of Nils Edenloff's half-caterwauls. Perhaps it is the solemn, understated organ work and whispers of Amy Cole, which lie behind 'In The Summertime' and 'Don't Haunt This Place' and give them structure whilst her two band-mates race off into the distance, or the bands genuine humility and gratitude in the face of a crowd which although highly vocal in their appreciation are of a much smaller number than the band deserve to be playing to, a crowd that the band infiltrate to play closer 'Good Night' acoustically and sans microphone.
Playing a set of around twenty tracks in a set that clocks in at just under an hour and a quarter the band showcase a catalogue of songs and a musical understand that belies a band in their sixth year of existence, and shy away from the typical Americana tradition of stretching out each song way beyond its welcome with guitar, drum and whatever else-solos. They never match the expansive, explosive force of My Morning Jacket, nor fall into the retreating introspection of Bill Callahan, but manage to avoid retreading on their own steps for the most part, with the wiry riffs of 'Stamp' and the anthemic 'Edmonton', a suggestion of what would be the end result if The Tallest Man On Earth recruited The Helio Sequence as his backing band, finding new grounds and never outstaying their welcome.
It is advice that support act The Sweet Hereafter would do well to take, as although their Okkervil River aping brand of hard-edged power-pop is hook-laden and full of signs of promise it is also prone to losing its way through repetition. However, the fresh-faced quintet do well to not be disheartened by a barely-there audience brought on by an early set time and are full of self-confidence and composure and deliver an enjoyable set that is a perfect warm-up for the headliners.
Further shuffling towards the limelight is almost a certainty for The Rural Alberta Advantage, but it is hard not to selfishly hope that they don't manage it just yet in order to experience them in an environment that best suits the qualities of their music.