At Tuesday night’s show at the intimate Williamsburg restaurant, bar, and soda bottle bottom lit venue Baby’s All Right, the Syracuse-based chamber pop band Ra Ra Riot roared through a bombshell set. At one point their charming vocalist Wes Miles divulged to the sold out crowd, “It feels like we have been sitting home for far to long, it feels like shaking the atrophy out.” It has only been a couple years since their last album and tour, but for their rabid fans, it has felt like a yearning and forlorn wait. This mini-tour has been a short outing for this band of alt rock darlings, only doing a handful of dates along the East Coast from Philadelphia to Massachusetts, but this welcome small venue pop-in to the Big Apple was obviously meant to clear out the cobwebs and cultivate some tasty new songs on some very delighted devotees.
Opening the show was another upstate NY band, originally hailing from Hudson; the campy and punky, hard and sweet rock duo known as PWR BTTM. The twosome of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce (occasionally joined by a bassist by the name of Nicolas) switch between playing drums and guitar as well as fronting songs, all in all producing a messy, loud, and raucous queer-oriented pop-punk as they throw taunting barbs at one another in a wake of great laughs. Hopkins, dressed in a wild ensemble of glitter and draggy extravagance, often poked fun of himself as well, at a few points saying “We are a horrible band, but we are hilarious,” which is true to a point, as they are terribly amusing in connecting with the audience as much as each other, and they can also be quite messy at times, but ultimately, when they started really rocking, they were actually quite killer. For instance, during their closing tune Hopkins broke a G string, saying “Who needs a G sting anyways,” making quite a few yuks about going ahead anyways, only to reach one of their crescendos where he was crying, “I could really use a G now!” They are very clearly quite happy about now operating from NYC instead of upstate now, as Bruce affectionately recalled, “The last time we played here at Baby’s we left before dawn to get here for a 12 o’clock show and get back at 12 the next day.” They are goofy and funny, gay and rocking, but their core is an unpredictable, groovy, and powerful molten rock, which is really quite appealing. In the end, their banter is solid and their shredding is gold, what’s there not to love?
Much as I had just a few weeks ago been exposed to PWR BTTM for the first time at NYC’s CMJ music festival, I was also first introduced to Ra Ra Riot at the same festival almost a decade ago, and I have been a fan every since. They are an expansive unit of musicians, each bringing their own unique spark to the funky explosion that is Ra Ra Riot; bassist Mathieu Santos, guitarist Milo Bonacci, and drummer Kenny Bernard all clearly bring the RA RA backbone arsenal of the bouncy and playful rhythms that instinctively get your booty moving, while the gorgeous violinist Rebecca Zeller produces a swooning swing that feels sometimes fiddle and sometimes Eastern European folk along with her cello companion, who’s name I did not catch, but who did look a lot like their founding cello player Alexandra Lawn who had left a few years back, so it was evidentially a new player, but she did look strangely familiar. Still, it has always been vocalist Wes Miles who brings out the wildly charismatic power RIOT of the band, swaying back and forth in a beguiling manner that certainly can make the ladies swoon and emphatically makes a picturesque soundboard to some of the catchiest lyrics of any alt-rock band of the last decade.
The setlist was most definitely the object of considerable excitement in the packed house. Fittingly, they staring with a track from their first ’08 The Rhumb Line album called “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” followed by “Too Dramatic” from their second and most popular album to date 2010’s The Orchard, and of course “Binary Mind” from their last LP Beta Love disc, and they managed to really run the glorious gambit of their catalogue with such a style and grace, you would almost think they hadn’t taken any “break” at all. Some of my favorite moments were that swinging love song “Can You Tell” that has made it on to more than a few of my CD mixes, the breakneck swing of “Boy” as their final song, and even the inclusion of a surprise Carly Rae Jepsen cover of a revved-up “Run Away With Me.” Still, what most fans in the house wanted to hear was, of course, the new stuff, and they brought out a few brilliant new tunes, “Bad Times,” “ Water” and even a smooth rocker of “Foreign Lovers” as the second to last encore. After hearing what they have been working on, I can’t wait to hear what they produce when they get themselves into the studio, which I imagine will be very soon, but certainly not soon enough for fans like me.
Article: Dean Keim