The Halifax Pop Explosion has a fairly impressive history as far as booking acts “before they get big” is concerned, a fledgling Arcade Fire and Japandroids among them. However, they tend to struggle in the category of booking established bands, even Canadian ones. It's odd for those in large cities to think of The Rural Alberta Advantage as a “get,” but after a summer of devotedly listening to Hometowns — drumming along, wailing along to the Neutral Milk Hotel-esque vocals, and stretching the structural integrity of my acoustic guitar — the excitement I felt when seeing that they were playing near me was electric. However, what separated this conveniently timed concert from other bands that had mercifully graced Halifax was the fact that a common all-ages venue for the festival, which still has a tendency to keep the good acts to the bars (see Titus Andronicus, who played on the same night), was St. Matthews United Church. Not only was this my childhood church, but my mom was and still is the minister there. Free tickets were enough of an incentive for excitement, but to know that the band I had obsessed over all summer would grace the stage upon which I had embarrassed myself in costumes and concerts before was something I had never expected.
While my bias towards it is obvious, I have never heard a remotely negative thing said about the show. A band that had made their name playing in Legion halls and bars beautifully transitioned to the more spacious and acoustically blessed setting, and the packed pews (a phenomenon the church has since been unable to replicate) were filled with awed spectators watching a band seemingly at its peak. Blasting through the louder material was obviously the most viscerally entertaining element of the show, but I'll never forget the performance of Hometowns standout “Frank AB.” The out-of-character but perfectly integrated synths filled the room, and between the impressed silence of the crowd and the setting, it was a religious experience (no pun intended). The highlight of the show came at the end, however, as Nils Edenloff climbed into the pews I had played in as a child holding only an acoustic guitar, and bathed in a single spotlight delivered a perfect version of Departing closer “Good Night.” The campfire atmosphere preserved by a surrounding audience mostly devoid of ambience-ruining cell-phone cameras was a perfectly low-key ending to a performance that had somehow exceeded the expectations of the big-name-hungry crowd. As the final chords hung in the air in the audience's perfect, uncharacteristic silence, Edenloff gave a look around clearly recognizing the setting, appreciation of the audience, and extraordinary performance he and his bandmates had delivered. While that may sound trite and overdrawn, I have never seen a musician look so emotionally impacted by the end of their own concert.
Hopefully a new album will eventually come. Hopefully they'll come back to Halifax. Hopefully this isn't the last time St. Matthews church sees a concert that leaves five hundred people speechless. Either way, nothing will ever blemish the pure musical gift given to the indie community of Halifax, Nova Scotia that day.