Monday, April 11, 2011

A Discovery, A Disappointment

One of the shows I was looking most forward to seeing was the Rural Alberta Advantage. I had been listening to the RAA since roughly 2008, very shortly after they came out with Hometowns. I can say with all honesty that the song "Frank A.B." seriously defined that particular period of my life. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the RAA, I recommend their music extremely. A small Canadian group, only three members, they create music that is driving, powerful, and filled with a pointed realism for what life can mean, and what it means instead.

This was my first show back at the Lincoln Hall since I went there last year to see Tapes and Tapes. As an aside, Tapes and Tapes is one of the single best live acts I have ever seen. Anyway, I went to see the RAA and I was excited. I got there a bit early and was sitting at the bar by myself. I had forgotten my book, and wasn't sure what to do with myself in the hour wait to the show. It was also a sold-out show, so the only people in the bar were there for the music. I sat at the edge and a well-trained bartender engaged me in enough conversation that I was soon engaged in conversation with two other gentlemen at the bar. One was an older music lover, who refused to stop rocking. He talked about one of the greatest moments of his life: being able to go to shows with his son. The other was an obvious “I’ve seen more obscure acts than you” guy. I love music, it’s not about seeing the people you have never heard of, or out showing anyone. I go because I truly love to see an artist perform. I had little in common with Mr. No-Name Band, and the conversation died off quickly after the older music lover's friends showed up.

Lincoln Hall likes to play music previews of upcoming shows on the sound system and I found myself looking up every few minutes to see who was playing that I wanted to see. As a song caught my ear I looked up at the screen and realized that it was not playing in the bar, it was playing on stage. The show had started and I was about to miss it.

When I walked into the hall, I had a moment. On stage was a small, bearded, re-haired man, carrying a guitar. He stood alone and played guitar and sang. His voice filled the room, overtaking the room. I had never heard of him before, but I was in love with him. His name is James Vincent McMorrow. As he finished his first song, he invited a small support band onstage with him. While they got set up I moved to the front of the stage because I wanted to be closer to this. I wanted to be right there for the music. I couldn't help it; I needed to see him perform. This is what I love about going to shows; to see the musician interact with their instruments, with the audience, with me. Whatever it is that compels a musician to put everything else aside for a life on stage also compels me. I understand it, and sometimes I wonder if I don’t go to see what it is that I gave up, or maybe it was just something I could never commit to, so I envy those people who have completely committed to music.

I had never heard a word of his music before, but suddenly I felt like I was going to be entirely in tears. It was perfect.

“Burn slow, burning up the back wall
long roads, where the city meets the sky
most days, most days stay the sole same
please stay, for this fear it will not die”

The perfection of Mr. McMorrow may have created the problem.

As he left the stage I waited in anticipation for the RAA. I watched them set the stage, watched the essential instruments come together. A drum kit. A tom-tom. A keyboard. The guitar board. The guitar. It’s a simple band. And when they, Niles, Amy and Paul, finally entered the stage and started playing I was ecstatic. I enjoyed listening. I was happy to listen.

But I was never enchanted.

I hate to admit it but there was never a moment where I felt that they as musicians were really going beyond in any way. There was excitement to be sure, and the music was played with perfection to sound as it did on the album, but somehow, it was lacking. It didn’t connect with me the way I wanted it to connect, and that was a real disappointment. At the end of the show they jumped off the stage to sing "Goodbye," which, as they say, they didn't do very often. And there is a part of me that wanted to believe it, but somehow it just all seemed too…rehearsed.

My reaction to the show bothers me on some level. I’m not sure why I didn’t connect to this band, who I adore, and still adore, as viscerally as I have connected to others on stage. Somehow there was a distance there and I wasn't able to break through it to get to something more, to the art, to the passion that drives the music. As unsettling as that is, I would probably go to see them again to see if I could find what it is that was lost.

You should still enjoy the band, as the music is transcendent. Perhaps it was just seeing someone who was so in love with his music first, maybe they just weren’t feeling it that night. It is hard to say.

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