[8 November 2010]
PopMatters Associate Events Editor
Ra Ra Riot was one of the most fun concerts I have been to in a while. I think it was the only time in my life I have been to a concert with a cellist that wasn’t a fifth grade field trip. The young band is comprised of six musicians, all swaying to the beat of their individual instruments, overlapping one another both musically and physically. Center stage was singer Wes Miles, with the bassist Mathieu Santos, and guitarist Milo Bonacci on either side. With the three of them moseying around the stage, weaving around one another, that’s still only half of the band.
The furthest outlying musicians, cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller are violently throwing elbows, bowing on the strings of their said instruments. And then deep in the back is drummer Gabriel Duquette, who looms, collected at the back of the stage, with encompassing headphones, and what appeared to be boxer shorts? Suffice it to say, there is a lot to watch on this stage, that is, when you aren’t distracted about whether or not aforementioned drummer was just in short-shorts, or actual underpants.
Jokes aside, this band is seriously impressive. Getting their start at Syracuse University, the band has come long and far from the days of campus soirees and frat parties. With two highly praised albums under their belt, Ra Ra Riot took the stage, starting the night off with the single which bears the name of their 2008 debut The Rhumb Line. To the delight of the crowd, other songs heard from that album included “Dying is Fine”, “Oh, La” and “Can You Tell”.
Songs from their follow up album, The Orchard, which was released in August of 2010, brought great numbers like “Shadowcasting” and “Kansai”. The show is a complete spectacle; each band member completely engrossed in eevery song. But, as much fun as the band is to watch, listening to the music is even better. Miles’ voice is so utterly unique and paired with the violin and cello it provides an unmatched originality.
Balancing out songs from each album respectively, there was no reliance on one album over another as Riot’s steadily developed catalogue of music meshed well together. From the new melody of “Do You Remember”, to the extremely catchy “Each Year” the songs all have independent identities, but blend together in an almost familial way. Another new touch was the song “You and I”, where cellist Alexandra Lawn gave her arms a rest in lieu of vocals. The song is like a dark carnival ride, a litter eerie, definitely haunting and all the while completely enchanting. I couldn’t stop thinking about Stevie Nicks when I listened to her sing as the similarities are so astounding.
The night finished on an upbeat note, with fun numbers like “Run My Mouth”, “Too Too Too Fast” and the great single off of The Orchard “Boy”. The song is streamlined by Mathieu Santos’ strong, prominent bass line and fast finger work on electric guitar. The song exemplifies what this band does so well, which is the contrast of speed between instrument and vocals. In this case, the bass, guitar and drums are flying through the song, but Miles’ voice floats through, maintaining control. Ra Ra Riot offers an originality that I haven’t heard in a long while; a kind of originality that makes the listener appreciate music on a new level.