With two nights at Bowery Ballroom already under their belts, it was time to catch up with Ra Ra Riot at Music Hall of Williamsburg this past Thursday for their 3rd consecutive NYC show.
Each member of the opener We Barbarians was distinct and impressive. The drummer, Nathan Warketin, was energetic, precise, and engaging. The bassist, Derek Vanheule, kept the set tight and added a great deal to the melodies of several songs (going beyond the standards I’ve seen from several indie/rock-based groups). Most importantly though, the guitarist/singer, David Quon, managed to create an incredibly full sound without a lead to bring out an additional layer. His rhythm-based pieces had an amazing tone that was complimented by the effects he was using. I’ll admit that I’m always partial to Gibson guitars, but the sound his created matched the mood and energy of the music completely.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about this set is the fact that, without having heard a single song before and without any personal background with the group, We Barbarians kept my attention throughout the entire set. Each song had elements not present in the one before it, and each made an impact. They’re continuing to tour with Ra Ra Riot for the next few weeks, so I highly recommend getting to the shows early if you have tickets. Who knows when these California natives will be back to the East Coast.
While I also enjoyed the second opener, North Highlands, I felt that it took quite a while for their enthusiasm on stage to build. Their music was inventive and quirky, but I found it difficult to connect in the same way that I did with We Barbarians.
Ra Ra Riot’s brand new album The Orchard is a gentler, more thoughtful venture than their debut release, so it was fair to assume that the show could become more woeful and intense when the headliner arrived on stage. Yet keeping in line with the night’s jovial theme, Ra Ra Riot handpicked the more upbeat favorites from albums new and old. Lively renditions of Boy, St. Peter’s Day Festival and Too Dramatic kept the show’s momentum fast paced. Even the typically slower Oh, La and Kansai never got too solemn, keeping the mood light and airy, and the crowd dancing for the remainder of the evening.
It must be said that cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller are an invaluable asset to Ra Ra Riot. The combination of soaring string parts with fluttery toe-tapping beats and guitar riffs are really what make this group so unique as a whole. It’s astonishing how much of a downright jam session they can have with orchestral instruments!
Normally, New York City acts as a world all it’s own, but this crowd rallied for the entire state by beckoning the upstate New Yorkers out for their encore with a spirited “SY-RA-CUS! SY-RA-CUSE!” chant. The group finished off the night with Massachusetts and the quite popular Dying is Fine. High-fiving the fans and sharing the love upon their exit, Ra Ra Riot simply seemed honored and proud to play their music that night. Show-goers know they were just as lucky to experience such an intimate evening with them in the Brooklyn venue, because they’ll be selling out MSG before you can say Too Too Too Fast.