all words: Jordan Edwards
all photos: Julia Benton
I told a friend of mine that I was going to see Ra Ra Riot, and she responded with “I don’t really like them. They’re too whiny.” She’s confusing “melodic” and “complex” with “whiny.” So, whatever.
But as I’m standing in the 9:30 Club will call line, some guy with a perfectly-trimmed beard and Jack Spade messenger bag made me lose faith in the type of fan Ra Ra Riot attracts, and by association, the band itself.
“I haven’t heard their new album, but I streamed their last appearance on World Café.”
Still, as a proud graduate of Syracuse University (that’s where the band formed), I have a soft spot for Ra Ra Riot. Like many of my classmates, I can obnoxiously talk about how I had their EP way before The Rhumb Line came out. And I actually really, really like them. At least their early stuff. The new album, The Orchard, has yet to produce many fan favorites. But, so what? They’re an excellent live sextet whose musicianship prevails even when the songwriting flounders.
The show started around 6:15(!) with a set by Givers, a talented and enthusiastic tribe out of Louisiana. The band aimed for epicness with every song and sometimes almost got there. Lead singer Taylor Guarisco, armed with a mean David Byrne knee flap move, entertained the crowd with songs only a few people knew. Givers comes from the same boat shoe calypso school as Vampire Weekend, if Ezra Koenig and company borrowed the drawn-out intros and bleep-bloop sampling of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Based on the choice to pull them from coast to coast, Ra Ra Riot thinks highly of their sound.
This was the final night of Ra Ra’s fall tour, and they promised to leave it all out there. The band kept their word, as the energy remained high, even during the slower songs. The string section of cellist Alexandra and violinist Rebecca Zeller, was predictably strong. What surprised me was the power of vocalist Wes Miles’ voice. This is the first time I had seen them live, and I always imagined that all those high notes would fall apart under the glare of stage lights.
The band opened up with The Orchard’s lead single, “Boy.” It’s not a bad song, but Mathieu Santos’ insistent bass line sort of ruins it. From there, the band stuck mostly to new material. Those in attendance ate up almost everything, especially standouts from The Rhumb Line. “Too Too Too Fast,” with Lawn countering Miles, was my personal pre-encore favorite. I was disappointed that they didn’t play “Each Year.”
Save for the spunky “Too Dramatic” and the haunting title track, the songs from the new album blended together into a forgetful bridge between Rhumb Line favorites. The Orchard has been out for a couple of months now—plenty of time for people to love and learn the words.
The best Orchard-related moment came about halfway through the show, when Lawn took the mic to sing lead on “You and I Know.” With a voice not unlike Stevie Nicks’, she captured the audience until the song droned on way past its welcome.
After a quick break, they returned with a generous encore that ended an earth- moving rendition of “Ghost Under Rocks.” The band invited members of the Givers onstage to sing backup, which gave the number a rich, full sound.
When the song ended, Miles told the crowd that he’d see them soon. We’re looking forward to your return too, Wes. Next time, bring some new songs that we actually care about.