When listening to the beautiful orchestral pop that fills Ra Ra Riot's two albums, it's easy to forget what a vibrant live band the sextet is. They reminded an enthusiastic Salt Lake City audience Tuesday night.---
What makes Ra Ra Riot stick out among a slew of young indie-rock acts is the New York band's blending of jaunty dance-rock and sweeping strings. And one needs look no further than the band's live shows to find those two seemingly disparate ideas working in perfect unison.
The stuttering bass of Mathieu Santos and the intricate guitar lines of Milo Bonacci weave together to form the sonic backbone of Ra Ra Riot's sound. The duo looks like they were pulled out of an engineering class, but there's genuine funk in their fingers. When you add some retro-sounding synthesizers (played by various members, depending on the song) and the intense drumming of Gabriel Duquette, you arrive at a sound that at times rivals the world beat-influenced Vampire Weekend, and at other times the retro soul/funk of Prince.
Singer Wes Miles is a whirling dervish on stage, his hair a sloppy mop and his voice reaching surprising heights on songs like "Boy" and "Too Dramatic" from the band's newest disc, The Orchard. Miles sometimes plays those synthesizers, and occasionally straps on a guitar, but for the most part he's left unfettered on stage. At Club Sound, he used his freedom to dance maniacally and slap hands with the fervent fans crowded in front of the stage.
Bringing the Ra Ra Riot sound to full bloom, though, is the dynamic string duo of cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller. On the band's quieter moments, their strings are the most prominent aspects of the songs. And when the band is fully rocking out on its funkier tracks, they are no shrinking violets; Lawn and Zeller tear into their instruments with just as much intensity as their electrified bandmates, making sure that cello and that violin come through loud and clear. And let's face it; the fact the two are dead sexy bookends to a band full of sweaty dudes helps the band's stage presence immeasurably.
Tuesday's set covered most of the band's two albums, and the highlights were numerous, from "Ghost Under Rocks" and "Can You Tell" from the band's debut, The Rhumb Line, to newer tracks like the show-opening "Shadowcasting" and "Kansai." Lawn sang lead on "You and I Know," leading me to want more of her voice in the Ra Ra Riot mix. And show-closer "Dying is Fine," the second of two encore tunes, sent the audience home happy and sated. And wanting a return visit from Ra Ra Riot sometime soon.