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Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Too Dramatic

Ra Ra Riot at The Mod Club in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSyracuse’s Ra Ra Riot have found success largely by maintaining a delicate stylistic balancing act; one that relies on the sextet’s energy and musical dexterity to offset their more ostentatious proclivities. In particular, the tendency to allow the strengths that made them distinct – the vocal acrobatics of Wes Miles and string section of Alexandra Lawn and Rebecca Zeller – to run away with things. At their best, they were a dizzyingly nimble orchestral rock ensemble; at their worst, overly indulgent and precious. Their 2008 debut The Rhumb Line deftly walked this line and on the whole, came out on the winning side.

The just-released follow-up The Orchard doesn’t get to make the same claim. As sophomore efforts demand, the band’s sound has grown from the debut but it’s done so in the direction of giving Miles more room to stretch out, vocally, and the result is a general sense of oversinging. Similarly, it sounds as though the faders on the strings have been pushed up sufficiently that rather than dance in and out of the mix equally with the other instruments, they seem to be overtop of things more often than not. Neither are major, game-changing shifts but as stated, it was a fragile state of equilibrium and one easily upset. It’s by no means a catastrophe, though – still intact is their collective musical chemistry and sense of melody and songcraft and underneath the slightly overcooked presentation are still some instantly catchy tunes. The Orchard‘s best moments are the uptempo ones that sound like they could have come straight off The Rhumb Line, which I prefer to interpret not as that they’ve already peaked creatively but instead have a strong foundation from which to grow in the right direction come record number three.

They’ve still got it just right on the stage, however, as Monday night’s free show at the Mod Club attested. Offered as a gift to fans who didn’t want to see them turn in a brief opening set at the Molson Amphitheatre on Saturday night, they delivered a full and proper show that served to remind that they’re an exceptional live act. Delivered with unrelenting energy and a punchiness that’s not really captured on record, nary a member of the band stopped moving for the better part of an hour, seemingly enthralled and compelled to dance by their music. That probably sounds more flowery than its intended, but it when the band is completely caught up in the sounds they’re making, it really sets the tone for the show and there was plenty of bopping up and down in the audience as well. The set list wisely stuck to the most up tempo songs in their repertoire and really showcased the talents of bassist Mathieu Santos, guitarist Milo Bonacci and drummer Gabriel Duquette. Though Miles, Lawn and Zeller understandably get the most attention, its those three who really lay down the rhythmic and melodic backbone of the band. But it’s the six of them operating as a single musical entity that impresses most with Ra Ra Riot and no reservations about their recorded work can diminish that.

There’s a decent recording of the show up at Hater High and according to the band, we can expect another local date some time in December. Seattle Weekly interviews guitarist Milo Bonacci.

Photos: Ra Ra Riot @ The Mod Club – August 30, 2010
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Boy”
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Dying Is Fine”
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Each Year” (EP version)
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Boy”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Can You Tell?”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Ghost Under Rocks”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Dying Is Fine”
MySpace: Ra Ra Riot

Magnet interviews Versus in anticipation of the band taking over the editorial reins of the website this week.

Arcade Fire continue to be disinterested in making conventional music videos, and the world is a better place for it. The clip ostensibly for “We Used To Wait” can be found at The Wilderness Downtown and uses a fascinating mash-up of HTML 5 and Google Earth to take you back to the neighbourhood you grew up in. My own personal experience was surprisingly powerful, but even if yours isn’t as much so, it’s still pretty cool. There’s some background about the technologies at play over at Chrome Experiments. Oh yeah, you’ll need the Google Chrome browser for it to work properly. It’s a good browser. Worth the download.

Video: Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”

Interpol are also getting into the neat video racket with a POV multi-camera session over at PitchforkTV. Their self-titled album is out next week.

Also out next week is The Thermals’ new record Personal Life, which is currently streaming in whole at NPR. They’re at Lee’s Palace October 9.

Stream: The Thermals / Personal Life

Film School’s new album Fission is available to stream over at Spinner, as is Jenny & Johnny’s debut I’m Having Fun Now; both are out this week. Film School are at the El Mocambo on October 4 and Jenny & Johnny open up for Band Of Horses at the Kool Haus on October 21.

Stream: Film School / Fission
Stream: Jenny & Johnny / I’m Having Fun Now

Stereogum has premiered the new video from The Drums’ self-titled debut, which is either out now if like vinyl or on September 14 if you like CD. They’re at the Mod Club on October 21.

Video: The Drums – “Down By The Water”

Cleveland Scene talks to Doug Martsch of Built To Spill.

By : Frank Yang at 8:26 am
Category: Concert Reviews

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RSS Feed for this post7 Responses.
  1. Cara says:

    The Wilderness Downtown works fine in Firefox.

  2. Mike says:

    Jenny Lewis has new band/solo project called Jenny and Johnny. I think the new album came out yesterday, but you’ve been a little quiet lately on the Jenny Lewis front.

  3. thomaus says:

    The Wilderness Downtown works really, really well. Thanks for the link.

  4. Frank Yang says:

    @mike – the Jenny & Johnny referenced in this very post are the same you refer to. I haven’t talked much about the project because a) I haven’t heard it and b) I haven’t really liked anything Jenny Lewis has had her fingers in in a few years, so interest has waned.

  5. Blah Blah Riot - Push Play - push.ca says:

    […] reviews at BlogTO (sounds like they were reaching to say something nice) and Chromewaves (positive, and well written as […]

  6. Rb. says:

    I agree completely about the Ra Ra Riot album. The strings are so present it makes me want to hear the vocals that much more. Instead of adding to the songs, the strings are quite distracting.

  7. CONTEST – Ra Ra Riot @ The Mod Club – December 1, 2010 | MP3 Music at MixBurner says:

    […] indie rock band to ever come out of Syracuse, or anywhere in upstate New York for that matter. Why: Their last visit was a sort-of-but-not-really-secret-and-free show just after the release of their second album The […]