Ra Ra Riot – Garfield Artworks, Pittsburgh Pa.

If nothing else, Ra Ra Riot is a nice group of kids. I had the good fortune of sitting down with them before their February 5th show at Garfield Artworks in Pittsburgh. After losing drummer, John Pike last year, their recovery process is still ongoing. “We feel lucky that we still get to continue playing the music that he created with us” says vocalist Wesley Miles.

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, they’re proud to be part of the small indie scene in the predominantly hardcore city. “When we got our start,” says violinist Rebecca Zeller, “no one really knew we were college kids. They thought we were from somewhere else.” Miles and bassist Mathieu Santos recall initial rumors that they were ex-members of Hot Hot Heat. “Which is funny because I saw them a few years back at a show I rode to in someone’s trunk, since the car was so packed,” comments Miles.

As they slowly build a name for themselves, Ra Ra Riot has been getting to see not only the country, but the world. Drummer, Cameron Wisch looks at me with an enthusiastic smile on his face and simply states, “Iceland,” as the rest of the band agrees emphatically. “And San Diego,” he continues. “We got to ride our bikes over the bridge that was in Anchorman!” Zeller and cellist Alexandra Lawn boast about the entire Pacific Northwest Coast. “Especially Pinkberry,” Lawn chirps in, referring to a chain of yogurt shops originating in the west. “Make sure to give them a good plug. They’re so great!”

The previous night, they were forced to cancel a show in Bowling Green, Ohio due to Miles losing his voice. “Which is sad, because Ohio fans have a lot of love. They’re good people,” he says. Guitarist Milo Bonacci chimes in, “Toledo was awesome. We played at Frankie’s there.” And here I was under the impression that Ohio sucked.

The whole band is in agreement that they haven’t yet “made it” and are just gradually “making it.” When I can tell someone I’m in a band and don’t have to explain at all, and people just recognize the name,” says Zeller, “that’s when I’ll say I’ve made it.”

Ra Ra Riot chuckles collectively when someone mentions Vampire Weekend and they take turns recognizing other New York bands that deserve some attention. Names that pop up include White Denim, The Virgins, Titus Andronicus, and Same Rosen. As for what they’re listening to that’s been getting them through the long drives between shows, Discovery, MGMT, The Dirty Projectors and Battles are all mentioned.

The band is tight-lipped when their political views are questioned. “We don’t want to be ‘that band’ says Lawn. “But we all do vote or at least submit absentee ballots. But we’re not going to be a political band. That’s not what we’re here for.”

The group takes the stage around 10:30PM following Pittsburgh locals Science is Dead and The Bad Faith Compromise. The venue isn’t quite full, but the crowd has slowly been growing during the two supporting acts. In the set change, they have quickly found the most effective use of GarfArt’s small stage. They command the attention of the audience with ease. They nice group of kids I had spoken with a few hours earlier had been completely transformed into the instruments themselves. Miles’ microphone stand is an extension of his own body and Wisch seems to pound himself into his drums. The music is not being performed by them but appears to be coming from somewhere else–some other worldly location. Ra Ra Riot seems to be in separate but cohesive trances and you can tell that they truly love the music they play. They are performing more for themselves and each other than they are for the audience. And it doesn’t matter. Not a person in the crowd can take their eyes off of the band.

The songs flow seamlessly into each other, even with the pauses between them. For the bulk of the show, my attention was focused on Zeller, Miles and Lawn, as they made up the front of the sextet. However, Santos grabs your eye from time to time as he makes his way up front to play off of Miles’s frantic but entrancing performance style. My only complaint is for guitarist Bonacci, who had a tendency to play with his back to the audience. Song highlights include “Can You Tell,” “Dying is Fine” and “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” the latter of which featured three tambourines at once.

If Ra Ra Riot is coming to your area, I cannot emphasize enough that seeing these kids do their thing is something not to be missed. They come alive onstage and they absolutely bleed their music. Unlike some bands, though, they don’t take themselves too seriously. When asked what their mission statement for the band would be, they all reply in near-perfect unison, “have fun.” Way to go, you nice group of kids.

review by: ~Sara~

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One Response

  1. Sounds interesting! I’ll have to check them out if they come to Detroit. Thanks for the insight. Nice piece.

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