Thursday, September 17, 2009

[Live Review] Ra Ra Riot, Chicago, Schuba's Tavern, 9.16.09

Arriving in time to cover both bands sets and making my inaugural trek to Schubas Tavern, passing through the bar with the venue’s open doors in front of me. “You’re not on the list’, dead in my tracks I was halted to hear a nicely balanced set from the openers, Princeton from the wrong side of the doors. By some lucky grace, the Gods of Schubas were kind enough to allow me entrance for the evening’s headliners Ra Ra Riot. It’s a sold out crowd and is obvious as the small room continues to get packed like canned sardines. The lights go out and the band emerges on stage. Wes very grateful thanks everyone for coming out and introduces the band, Ra Ra Riot. Mathieu’s bass begins to thump hard, as he dances around stage leading us in. The string section, Ali and Becca chime in with a bow; it seems as though everyone is getting in sync as they play through this melodic bass-thumping tune. The strings continue, drums lead into “Each Year” there is so much energy coming off the stage, as Wes dances about with his mic stand. Everyone seemingly jovial, tapping a foot or bouncing back and forth. RRR is rhythmically demonstrating why their live performances are so buzzed about. It’s a like musical ADD, as the drums continue to crash down, strings passionately play on, and a continuous motion occurs on stage. In between verses, Wes moves over to the keyboard to contribute to the instrumental fun, singing with high energy and emotion in every line.

Wes makes small commentary about the crowds respectability, thanking everyone; Becca and Ali patiently wait for the drum count with such focused and concentrated expressions. Strings lead us into “Oh La” Wes is up and down all over the place, as the tempo rises with the percussion. The stage is exploding with enthusiasm. The lovely ladies of the string section lead us out with a symphonic melody. A very gracious guest, Wes thanks the crowd once more, innocently admitting he has forgotten what song is next as he stalls before beginning, “Suspended in Gaffa”. Much like the lyrics dictate, the bands performance feels similar to a light-hearted jaunt as you can almost imagine them to begin levitating above the stage. There is a persisting sense of amazement as band members alternate spots breathlessly without skipping a beat in a flawless performance. In a narration of older times, describing his nostalgic ties to Schubas, Wes shares a tale of the onset of the band’s career and videos that can be found on Youtube. “If you want to see me more awkward than I am right now, you should look them up”. (Drum roll, cymbal crash)
Heavy banging drums begin, and Wes has returned to his keyboard to serenade the crowd with, “Can You Tell”. Guitars are kissing; drums continue to crash and strings play in sync. Everyone on stage evenly creates his or her own presence; the other upstages no one. Responding to requests for Discovery songs, (the lead singer’s side-project with the keyboardist from Vampire Weekend) playing the obscure favorite “ A Manner to Act” from their self-titled EP. Mathieu stomps around with demonstrative bass play as the strings recommence with “Ohs” all around lead into “Ghost Under Rocks”. The band comes to a muted silence as Ali’s sweet and sultry voice delivers the final verse, until the high rising tempo returns and crashes down onto the drums. We are promptly lead into “Too Too Too Fast” Ali has moved over to the keyboard, her play in contrast to that of Wes’s sounds to have derived from a classical training. Arriving at the final two songs of the evening’s set, the band’s energy and intensity are raised above the peak levels of tempo expectation. Wes plays around the orchestrated claps of the crowd as the band extends their conclusion instrumentally. After a brief moment of applause, the band returns for an encore, beginning what sounded like new material. It was a full-bodied slower tempo track laced with sweet lyrics. Ali slow dances, as the song is gently unraveled to a guitar lead out. The intensity and high tempo return in full-force for the band’s big finale leaving the crowd excited and inspired.

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