Fresh off recording their first full-length, the six-piece employed their own version of the ‘kitchen sink’ strategy, playing literally every song in their repertoire, but the crowd kept asking for more. So on the night of March 7th, the band played two encores – a real rarity at Bowery (QRO venue review) – including three renditions of “Ghost Under Rocks”.
Singer Wesley Miles opened things up with an old version of “Ghost”, just him on stage with a keyboard (and glasses). “Ghost” was actually written by their late drummer John Pike, who tragically died last summer. It’s also the first song from their Ra Ra Riot EP (QRO review) that the band knew they wanted on the LP. Originally dubbed “Crazy Days”, this solo rendition of “Ghost” was able to show off a level of emotion that can sometimes be lost when all six members are running around on stage.
And run around they did, once the rest of the Riot joined Miles, launching into the pure energy of Riot’s “A Manner To Act”. The sliding, sweet melody of Riot opener “Each Year” came next, but then the band went into a long set of new pieces. The group seems to veer more towards the orchestral with their new material, showing how they’ve grown as musicians. The strings from cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller particularly seem to have more prominence, and are more deeply ingrained in the music. That came through first on an up-down choral, orchestral anthem, and then on the high, carrying “Oh, La” – which also featured Miles busting out on the saxophone (‘cause the band doesn’t have instruments already).
The biggest fan favorite of the new songs was another Pike-written piece, “St. Peter’s Day Festival” (on their MySpace page, you can hear an early version, with Pike singing vocals). “Festival” was a bit slower and sweeter, but built into an uproar of positive charm. Things stayed sweet with another new number, though it didn’t have quite the carrying power of the rest of the new stuff. Ra Ra Riot added a certain amount of pushing power with “Run My Mouth Off”, with Lawn & Zeller’s strings getting particularly epic.
The group then closed things out mostly with Riot tracks, though also featured was the pressing hyper-drive of the new “Too Too Too Fast” – Lawn’s back-up vocals on the chorus title line particularly gave it that extra ‘oomph’. But “Can You Tell?” jumped up from its love song status on record to bring in the entire audience, while the ‘regular’ version of “Ghost Under Rocks” still managed to display how much the band’s orchestral sound has grown. And they went into the first encore break with an awesome version of Riot’s awesome-est track, “Dying Is Fine”, the crowd hopped up from the first notes. The Riot returned with the only Riot piece they hadn’t done yet, the pressing “Everest” playing less alt-road, more dance-party. They then rocked the crowd with possibly the best new song all night, a big number whose orchestral uplift made it the most carrying piece of the evening.
But the crowd wasn’t done with Ra Ra Riot – not just sticking it out until the house lights and music went on, but also stomping the floor with their chants of “Ra Ra Riot!” And just before you could say, “I’ve never seen a band do a second encore at Bowery,” there the kids were again. Miles unabashedly admitted that they’d played all the songs they knew how to play right now, saying they’d have to play something again. He polled the audience, first by show of hands, then clapping, asking about “Dying Is Fine”, then “Each Year”, and finally “Ghost Under Rocks” – which of course got the biggest uproar. In some ways, it’s fitting that a band named ‘Ra Ra Riot’, with song names like “Too Too Too Fast”, would play a song more than once (or even twice). But the various “Ghost Under Rocks” in the set were able to show how much the band has developed, while never forgetting where they came from.