Concert Review: The Shaky Hands and the Rural Alberta Advantage

Categories: Concert Review

​It was a blistering cold winter night in Phoenix and it seemed like a bunch of folks opted to stay home instead of catch locals Yellow Minute support touring acts the Shaky Hands and the Rural Alberta Advantage at the Rhythm Room last night. I had bundled up and gotten to the venue (after a pit-stop at Krispy Kreme first, of course) and was pleasantly surprised to see an intimate (see: not too big, not too small) crowd instead of the regular hustle and bustle you find by the bar area on most nights. Perhaps it was the fact that they didn't have any beer on draught, perhaps it was just a lazy Monday night? Either way, festive twinkling lights and hanging candy canes gave the room a western holiday feel; fully equipped with a backdrop of soft strings, husky vocals, and ukuleles in between sets courtesy of the night's promoter Jeremiah Gratza. Very laid back, but not in that lame, drippy adult contemporary way, this show, despite its soothing atmosphere, still totally rocked.

Kill Rock Stars' The Shaky Hands from Portland, OR were the band that I had originally come to see. I had seen them in Phoenix a couple of times before, and each time it seemed as though the quartet had delved deeper and deeper into finding their real musical identities. Their set was seamless, had little awkward stage banter, and was executed in a swift and precise manner. One of the things that I love about this band is the fact that they have a great sense of musical timing; rocking out to their own brand of garage-meets-blues-meets-folk rock. Lead singer-guitarist Nicholas Delffs' voice brought nostalgia to me of sitting in my best friend's car in high school blasting Guided by Voices on a rainy day, while the rhythm section kept everyone's eyes on stage. At some points in the set, Delffs' voice had reached that anxious and nasal-heavy timbre that resonated part Bob Dylan and part Michael Stipe as phenomenal new drummer Jake Morris banged out wildly inventive beats that were rightfully complimented by Mayhaw Hoons' fluid-like bass lines.

While the Shaky Hands are often compared to bands like Neil Young and the Who (most of their recordings have that laid back, vintage flair about them), what we saw last night was a slight adjustment of what most fans know of their music. While maintaining their 60s feel-good vibe, the band performed with an immediacy about them; plowing through anthem-worthy rock songs infused with familiar power-pop and non-traditional drum beats without any dead air. In a perfect world, Tucson's Golden Boots would have been on this show. It would have been a great match!

Headliners for the night were Toronto-based indie band the Rural Alberta Advantage. Recently signed to Omaha's Saddle Creek Records, Rural Alberta drew the biggest crowd of the night with their sweet and energetic songs about loves lost, haunted railroad towns, and missed opportunities. Almost reminiscent of a Bleed American era Jimmy Eat World, it was no surprise to me what their appeal to this intimate Arizona crowd was. The cute guy-girl vocal pairing of Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole evoked the emotion-heavy yearning of Jim Adkins and Rachel Haden, while drummer Nils Edenloff kept the tempo up with chaotic disco dance beats, which provided an interesting contrast between the subtleties of the acoustic guitar and keyboards. My main concern for the night was the levels on their sound. I'm not sure what happened after Shaky Hands left the stage sounding great, but Rural Alberta had the ill fortune of being too loud at first. Banwatt's vocals were almost peaking through the speakers as the crowd got closer to the stage and at times the guitar was completely overpowered by the drums and vocals. My only real gripe was that I didn't like how their drums sounded. While the technique was there, I felt like I was listening to a 90s pop-punk band from SoCal with how tightly tuned his toms were. Other than that, it was a pretty good Monday night.

 Last night: Yellow Minute, the Shaky Hands, and the Rural Alberta Advantage at Rhythm Room.

Better than: freezing at home while studying for finals.

Random fact: The band was originally from Mendocino, California...pretty much the marijuana capitol of America!

Further listening: Drummer Jake Morris used to be in a band called the Joggers, while former member Nathan Delffs is often in Castanets.

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