October 5, 2009

Live Review: Ra Ra Riot

Emo’s // Austin, TX // Sept. 24, 2009

A riot recently ensued in downtown Austin, but not one of catastrophic proportions – not even close. Rather, it was a riot of mellifluous strings keys and vocals. The pop symphony that Ra Ra Riot brings to their live audiences is rivaled by none; they deliver sound qualities that have yet to even meet imitation. The quintet operates smoothly in mutually artful musicianship as they transition from song to song with the same fierce vigor infused into each tune on the setlist.

Ra Ra Riot has found critical acclaim since the release of their freshman album, The Rhumb Line, that dropped just a little over a year ago. After seeing them live it is evident why their particular brand of baroque pop has gained momentum. A resonant rendition of “Suspended in Gaffa” was the first song to really speak to me with Mathieu Santos’ prominent bass line powering forward over Rebecca Zeller’s delicate violin. “Suspended in Gaffa” is a mellow tune, but Ra Ra Riot effortlessly morphed to upbeat pop with the much more guitar-centric “Each Year.” Zeller and Alexandra Lawn’s strings could have afforded a bit more sound on this tune, but overall it was performed poetically as each member continued to share the stage in a symbiotic ballet of sound.

Ra Ra Riot has been dubbed “intense” by more than one media outlet and after seeing them live I’d have to whole heartedly concur with that appraisal. Intense could apply not only to the instrumentation itself but also the stage presence of the band as a whole. They pour themselves into the music, as they seem to shut out everything but the emotive pop that they are making together – like a melodic sonnet to one another. Alexandra Lawn is especially passionate as she literally throws herself into her cello, with hair sweeping through the air from both her head and her bow, one with her instrument, her band, and her music – it’s simply stunning.

Ra Ra Riot surprised me by throwing the popular “Can You Tell” in to the dead middle of their set list. They continued to pull new tricks from their sleeves and deviated from their characteristic intensity for a bit – to show they don’t take themselves too seriously – with the synthed-out throwback to '80s electronica. “Too Too Too Fast.” Ra Ra Riot saved hits like “Ghost Under Rocks” until near the end of their set and even stuck around for an encore after the crowd began to thin, playing to the end with no less enthusiasm for their music than in any of the songs before. In a word: breathtaking.

-By Tara Lacey; photos by Michelle Waggoner

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