Ra Ra Riot appeared last Friday as part of the Sounds Like Brooklyn Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's grand Howard Gilman Opera House with a burst of energy I just didn't know they had in them. Their 2008 CD The Rhumb Line was one of my top ten of that year but the measured approach in the studio didn't hint at the yes, riotous performance they gave live on stage. It wasn't until I went online the next day to check the details about the tragic death of their first drummer that I came across references to their high voltage gigs. I suppose I could have assumed it with the connection to their name!
They took the stage in a burst of action with the violinist Rebecca Zeller and cellist Alexandra Lawn (rockin a lightweight electric version) flanking the guys on guitars, Mathieu Santos and Milo Bonacci, plus front man/lead vocalist Wes Miles in a line across the edge. The new drummer Gabriel Duquette played solidly on his podium behind them and happily interacted with the others when they came to visit. A grand piano sat at the side for Wes to jump over and play along with various other small keyboards on a stand towards the front when he wasn't singing sweetly into the mic at center stage. The band enjoyed picking up various hand percussion to supplement the sound, then returning to their designated instrument as they plowed through their set list -- which included a few new tunes sprinkled within. Another set of six musicians known as Ymusic joined the band to fill out the sound as needed.
I hear the band now lives in Brooklyn and thus qualified to be invited to the festival, but they announced right off how they were from Syracuse, having met at the University there (a proud moment for my husband beside me to have such fine fellow musicians from his alma mater). Though we were in seats way up in the balcony, the theater's splendid acoustics filled every inch with a reverberating sound and Ra Ra Riot's excellent musicianship. Having been to BAM over the years since it became the hot venue in NYC with the Next Wave festival, it was fun to see the place overrun with younger hipsters -- a smart marketing move to be sure.
I've been trying to remember how I even learned about the band, maybe it was from a compilation CD created by my son and left in my car? I do remember hearing them on kcrw.com's Morning Becomes Eclectic so I went into the archive and found the live session with a nice interview. They even do an excellent version of "Hounds of Love" by Kate Bush. (A band favorite, another Kate Bush song "Suspended in Gaffa" is on The Rhumb Line and was also offered up at BAM.) Recorded in a confined space without a live audience obviously makes things much more subdued than the BAM performance, but it's still looser than anything found on their CD. Check it out at the link below: