Show Review: Ra Ra Riot
  • FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 02, 2007

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When she's not composing articulate, politically-conscious raps for the hip-hop trio Northern State, Correne Spero also writes some mighty fine show reviews. Spero headed to the Mercury Lounge this week to catch a performance by Ra Ra Riot, and her review is below. We're excited to have her writing for us, and equally excited about those new songs on Northern State's Myspace page...

Credit: Elliot Black
Ra Ra Riot: Live at the Mercury Lounge, 1/31/07

So I went to see Ra Ra Riot at the Mercury Lounge on Wed. night, knowing only the following: Ra Ra Riot is from Syracuse, they have a lot of ‘buzz’ right now, they don’t have an album out yet, and we share a booking agent.

At first, it looked like a normal crowd had assembled, but as my/our agent began telling me about how a bunch of labels including Columbia are after these guys (look out, kids), I did start to notice some “silver foxes” trying to blend into the crowd.

As the band took the stage, I was surprised to see two cute gals plugging in their electric cello and violin – who knew? (The rest of the band consists of four dudes filling the more conventional positions.) The songs were solid – well-constructed and well-executed, and the strings really did add a lot, ushering Ra Ra Riot’s sound into the theatrical realm of the Cure, or maybe Dexy’s Midnight Runners - both fine things in my world. Lead singer Wesley Miles brings to mind in look and manner (not voice though) a young Michael Stipe, maybe from the “Gardening at Night” era, with the hair flying around in his face and the moody eyes. Sigh…

Overall, the music sounded immaculate. These kids play beautifully together and are definitely well-rehearsed. The breaks and changes were all spot-on, in part due to drummer John Pike, who is tight, with everyone hitting their marks meticulously. The vocal mix was a little wonky, and I could have stood more vocals all around (cellist Alexandra Lawn sings back up and could barely be heard) - but this is obviously not the band’s fault. Wes was finally able to fully rise above on the band’s cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” He absolutely killed it, dropping to his knees, and carrying on in such a way that I began to wonder if maybe Ra Ra Riot had actually really formed as vehicle for them to cover this one Kate Bush song.

In spite of the lush orchestration, the set did have a few moments of stripped-down rockness, like the Rock Lobster-type guitar riffs and extreme cowbell that began the second song. The crowd got excited when they started “Can You Tell” which starts out all quiet with “Oh baby baby babe, how long am I supposed to wait?” – apparently a sentiment people can relate to. And there was even a bit of jamming, featuring something approximating a violin solo towards the end of the set – but all involved seemed a little wary of fully crossing over into Dave Matthews territory, something every band hoping to play with a violinist from now until eternity must confront. Again, not their fault.

Wes announced that the band is recording their EP in Williamsburg and they are one day ahead of schedule – which seems in line with Ra Ra Riot’s overall vibe: some nice kids playing their songs impeccably, with no obvious cursing or onstage drinking that I could discern, who are one day ahead of schedule, and who just wanna cover their Kate Bush songs in peace. It’s hard to be mad at that.

- Correne Spero

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