Ra Ra Riot at Clubhouse Music Venue Last Night

Ra Ra Riot
Clubhouse Music Venue
Friday, October 22, 2010

On Friday night, I was sure the Ra Ra Riot show would sell out, but I was so very wrong. Maybe it was because Sufjan Stevens was playing his own sold-out show, or maybe it was because people had never heard of Ra Ra Riot, but whatever the reason, I have never seen the Clubhouse so empty.

That's not to say there was nobody there, but after this month's sold out and sweaty Matt and Kim show

and a healthy crowd for Japandroids and the Walkmen before that, I made sure to plan ahead for a night that would likely be stuffy, sticky, and filled with teenagers. Fortunately for me, I didn't end up having to worry about making sure I was wearing lightweight clothing that would wick away moisture, because I didn't sweat a drop, even though I was remarkably close to the stage.

Ra Ra Riot - Boy by artsandcraftsmx

I can't fathom why more people weren't at this show, especially after Sufjan sold out, because Ra Ra Riot play really easy-to-listen-to indie pop. They have two hot girls in the band (for the fellas), an adorable frontman who sings emotionally and animatedly (for the ladies), a fantastic drummer, a nerdy looking bassist. And, for Christ's sake, they have a violinist and a cellist to boot. They have a fun, upbeat sound with a synthy, 80s feel that's easy to dance to, and they have an interesting and heartbreaking back story about one of the original bandmates dying and the surviving members deciding to persevere and continue making music despite their tragic and unexpected loss. After all that, how can more people not have been there? It continues to baffle me.

While I absolutely love Ra Ra Riot and once drove from Phoenix to Los Angeles to see them open for Andrew Bird at the Greek Theatre, I was slightly underwhelmed by this performance. They are known for their energetic live shows, but on Friday, they played without the same fervor and excitement I've seen from them in the past.

After touring since August and clocking in their 28th show on this tour, I can understand how it would start to wear on them and become routine. They sounded amazing, their musical performance sounded as good as the studio versions of their albums, The Rhumb Line and The Orchard, but there was a lack of symbiosis between the band and the crowd.

The one song that pleasantly surprised me in the fifteen song set was "You and I Know," the only song the band has released that is sung by a female member of the group, cellist Alexandra Lawn. This song does absolutely nothing for me on the album, but in the live version, Lawn oozed sultriness, and her voice was stronger and more beseeching than I would have imagined from her.

The rest of the set was well received, especially crowd favorites "Ghosts Under Rocks" and "Can You Tell," as well as the first single from the recently released The Orchard, "Boy," and the group of girls next to me spent the entire show jumping around and dancing excitedly, but having seen their packed and explosive set at this year's Coachella festival, there was almost nothing they could have done to top that performance.

Ra Ra Riot - Can You Tell by ChutMonCherie

Generally, the show was enjoyable, and people were singing along and bopping around to the beat, but the biggest surprise of the night was first opener Givers from Lafayette, Louisiana. Damn, these guys are good. My friends and I got to the Clubhouse, planning to grab a beer at the Horse and Hound next door, but stopped when we heard them play. It has been so long since I've had a band stop me in my tracks, but these kids did it. The lead female vocalist has the energy of Régine from Arcade Fire and the voice of Victoria Legrand from Beach House. They are fun and danceable, and look like they are having the time of their young lives while performing.

That's how Ra Ra Riot has played in the past, but the freshness Givers exuded just kind of made the headliners look road weary.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I think it's pretty clear that I dig these guys. I have been a fan since The Rhumb Line came out in 2008, and have seen them live on several occasions. Their new album, The Orchard, wasn't nearly as impressive as their first, but there are some standout tracks. "Can You Tell" is also the third most played song on my iPod.

The Crowd: Older than I would have guessed for this show. I figured I would see a lot of people under 21, especially on a Friday night, but most concertgoers had the telltale of age wristband.

Random Notebook Dump: Everybody's pulling double duty, singing, playing different instruments, switching microphones. It's a little disorienting, but keeps it interesting.

Set List:
St. Peter's Day Festival
Oh, La
You and I Know
Can You Tell
Do You Remember
Run My Mouth
Each Year
Too Too Too Fast
Too Dramatic
Ghosts Under Rocks

Dying Is Fine

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Lindsey Holder