Do the Riot Thing

Playing at the Great American Music Hall, Ra Ra Riot Display Graceful Poise

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Christopher McDermut/Photo



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If being serenaded by a soothing blend of virtuosic string work and dynamic rhythms sounds appealing, then seeing Ra Ra Riot live is your dream come true. The New York-bred sextet succeed in their incorporation of both rock and classical elements through their music and make for an awe-inspiring concert. Working their magic under the soft lights of the ornately decorated Great American Music Hall, Ra Ra Riot charmed the crowd with a frenzied yet graceful expression of their emotionally charged set list.

Before Ra Ra Riot could flaunt their talent, Givers, the opening act, gave a brief preview of the lively night that was to come. A small act hailing from Louisiana, they proved that they were a name to watch out for with their impossibly high energy. As the majority of the audience had never heard of them before, it showed the extent of their charisma when they instantly set the crowd swaying and bobbing along to the country twangs and pounding beats.

As the animated spirit of Givers faded away and Ra Ra Riot took the stage, I'll admit that I was a bit disappointed when they opened with "Massachusetts." Personally, it was my least favorite track from their new album since it didn't appear to have any sort of direction and drags on for an eternity. But as I noticed the passionate delivery of each band member, from Alexandra Lawn's sensual cello-playing to Milo Bonacci's dynamic guitar solos, I began to appreciate the beauty in even the songs that I had no prior fondness for.

In fact, the fiery intensity of their on-stage persona is what made the performance exciting. With The Rhumb Line favorites such as "Each Year," the band easily conveyed the tracks' appeal through a frenzy of orchestral swells and pulsating beats. But The Orchard is another story. Though it was an album filled with lush, sweeping arrangements, it doesn't exactly translate to a spirited performance. So it was a pleasant surprise to see simmering, passively gorgeous tracks like "Foolish" and "You and I Know" aggravated to explosive renditions while the crowd pleasers "Boy" and "Too Dramatic" delivered everything listeners have ever hoped to hear.

Ra Ra Riot has come a long way since their EP days and seeing them perform only confirmed their poise and maturity. After the sudden death of their original drummer back in 2007, there were doubts about whether the group would be able to recover from the incident. But talent often arises in the face of tragedy and Ra Ra Riot proved that with their stunning tribute to their friend, "Ghost Under Rocks."

Now, they have perfected their sound with grace and sincerity developed over the years, culminating in a sort of catharsis. Emotional attachment is almost guaranteed when listening to Ra Ra Riot and it's hard not to be gripped by their expressiveness. The heavily featured The Orchard is not instantaneously likable and lacks the fun hooks that were present in The Rhumb Line. Instead, it is an album to be patiently explored. Through their inspiring performances of songs from the new album, Ra Ra Riot were able to engage the audience and show us the complex elegance of their music. At the same time, they wisely decided to evenly divide their repertoire between familiar hits and new material, giving fans what they know by heart as well as opening their eyes to fresh singles. Rocking out under the stage lights of the Great American, a venue so intimate that you could see the creases of Wes Miles' eyes, Ra Ra Riot opened their hearts to concert-goers-and hey, any band that can get a crowd happily dancing around to songs about dying and ghosts has my nod of approval.


Cynthia Kang is the lead music critic. Contact her at [email protected]



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