Scenes From Last Night's Ra Ra Riot Show at the Kessler.
I've got some vague, vague, vague ties to Syracuse's Ra Ra Riot.
Mainly, those ties essentially boil down to this: Like the majority of that band's current members, I attended Syracuse University.
I was pretty good friends with one of the band members' roommates, too, although I never found out until later that the band would sometimes practice in his basement. I was also fairly tight with the band's original drummer, John Pike, who tragically drowned in a lake in Massachusetts in 2007. We took Spanish together for a few years, even paired up for a few group projects. John was an awesome guy.
I never really saw the earliest stages of Ra Ra Riot, though. Their big breakthrough as the band to watch in Syracuse didn't come until the 2006-2007 academic year, one year after I'd graduated. But, really, there just wasn't that much live music performed around campus back then. Gym Class Heroes drove up from Poughkeepsie to play a couple house parties before they got signed to Fueled by Ramen, I remember that. The biggest Syracuse bands I can remember from those days are the forgettable, jammy Sweaty Etiquette and the cleverly named, but that's about it, My Friend's Band.
Long story short: Ra Ra Riot didn't have to do much to ascend to the top of that scene's hill. Still, they did enough — clearly. Even a year removed from campus, news of their sound swept through my group of school friends. We all bought their EP and loved it. And we all cheered them on when Barsuk Records released their debut LP, The Rhumb Line, in 2008. School pride and all.
So, yeah, I've been following Ra Ra Riot from the jump. And, yeah, I'm probably rooting for them a little deep down. But not so much as not to say this: I was fairly disappointed by 2010's The Orchard, which was a little too baroque and twee, and again by this year's Beta Love, which skews a little too far in the opposite, dance-poppy direction. Much has been made about the new album's change coming from the loss of original cellist Alexandra Lawn, but that's probably not the cause. I think it's mostly a reactionary thing on the band's end, that they're just tinkering too much with their formula.
At their best, Ra Ra Riot hits on a pretty rare mark, combining the seemingly disparate ideals of baroque pop and dance-y (but not dance) pop into an intoxicating blend.
Lucky for everyone in attendance at last night's sold-out Kessler Theater show from the band, that original sound remains very much intact in the band's live displays. There, either through equipment concerns or just great mixing, the band's core musicianship shines through, as its members bounce about stage gently, leaving plenty of room for lead vocalist Wes Miles to roam and offer up his spot-on live vocals.
It was an impressive display, a great show. For over an hour, the band delighted this crowd with seeming ease.
I guess that's the biggest thing that stands out to me about this band, that everything comes so easily to them.
Lucky them, I guess.