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Everyone knows the more successful bands aren’t always the most inventive or original and the hottest ticket in town isn’t always going to be something the critics mention when they compile their end-of-year lists. The reverse is often true; a lot of the best gigs are played in front of just a few followers, unsuspecting randomers and curious music fans. That said, it’s nice to believe that if something is good enough enough it will to catch people’s eyes and ears and get punters through doors. Maybe it’s due to the music equivalent of fixture pileup in Bristol this month or maybe it’s just because they haven’t had that much exposure this side of the Atlantic yet – The Rural Alberta Advantage, touring what’s one of the best LPs of 2011 so far, played the Bristol leg of their UK tour in front of a disappointing Cooler crowd. (It did clash with Villagers at the Trinity Centre mind).

First on, Bristol band Schnauser played to a smattering of early arrivals with a hard task on their hands. To their credit, they took it in their stride, offering an assortment of quirky tales over the top of a catchy blend of indie-pop and geek-rock, bolstered by some well-thought boy-girl harmonies. Yes, there was the occasional awkward silence between songs and one or two tunes fell foul to some self-indulgent guitar mastery but with more shows under their collective belt and a refined setlist you’ll no doubt be hearing more from this trio.

Hitting the stage 10 minutes before their allotted time, the Rural Alberta Advantage appeared eager to get started, ploughing through opening track Luciana, from home-recorded debut album Hometowns, in fiery fashion. The disappointing turnout seemed irrelevant as frontman Nils Edenloff, towering over his microphone, led the early stages of the band’s set through the denser and more intense tracks of new record Departing, like Under the Knife, Muscle Relaxants and Tornado ’87, channeling Jeff Mangum and Neil Young in a vocal style he’s almost made his own. Almost. More impressive, though, was how the three-piece moved from the understated, borderline-country tracks in their repertoire (Two Lovers, North Star) to the more frenetic and glossy sounds of songs like Stamp and Frank, AB with minimal fuss. Aided only by a drum kit, keys and Edenloff’s guitar, all three went well beyond the call of duty, producing a sound you’d normally except of an alt-country collective to make with half-a-dozen bodies on stage.

The crowning moment, however, was in the final moments of the gig when the three Canadians moved from the stage to the middle of the crowd for closing number Goodnight . Backed only by the occasional chord on Edenloff’s acoustic guitar and Paul Banwatt’s floor tom, you could’ve heard a pin drop as the band’s frontman and backing vocalist Amy Cole delivered note-perfect harmonies to create a moment everyone present will find it hard to forget anytime soon.

Words: Michael Inglis
Photo: Sarae via Flickr