Ra Ra Riot at the Paradise
Ra Ra Riot is a little more ra ra than riotous, but that's part of their charm. The six-piece act resembles a group of young band-geeks-cum-rock-stars (sort of), and it works for them. Their two female members rock a violin and a cello as if they were channeling Slash manhandling his axe, while shaggy-headed vocalist Wes Miles bops around the stage, alternately crooning into his mic and ruffling bassist Mathieu Santos’s hair with joyful abandon.
For Saturday’s sold-out show, a motley crowd fills the Dise’s shadowy spaces. At floor level, bobbing their heads and shuffling their Conversed feet, hipsters and emo kids jam to the sextet’s soaring instrumentals, while some older professional-looking types and fresh-faced preppies line the balcony, nodding in time. I squeeze in between a couple clad entirely in black, each with almost identical asymmetrical haircuts (did they hit the salon together?) and a trio of guys who look like they stopped here on their way to a frat party. Nods all around. The diverse audience Ra Ra Riot draw to their shows is a testament to the broad appeal of their sound: it’s tuneful without crossing fully over into pop, just edgy enough to pull in the indie-sect, and hey, these kids can actually play their instruments. As the band soars through a cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” (is it heresy for me to mention here that I think they actually manage to improve on the original?), the crowd roars their approval, whipped into a frenzy as Miles darts back and forth between keyboard and mic stand.
One of the frat guys leans over to check out my portable mini-tripod as I adjust my camera angle on the balcony’s railing. He asserts his approval. “Sweet,” he says, as onstage Ra Ra Riot dive into their popular single, “Dying Is Fine.” Also pretty sweet is the fact that the band seem to be enjoying the show as much as the rest of us, if not more. They grin unabashedly throughout the night, as caught up in their own soulful pop as the crowd.
For their encore, they beckon supporting acts Princeton and Maps & Atlases back into the spotlight. The openers eagerly comply, bounding onstage to join the band in an impromptu jam session. The scene becomes a melee of youthful exuberance, as the 13-odd musicians bring the night to an end on a suitably high note. Watching from the wings, I get the distinct feeling that I’ve stumbled into someone’s parents’ basement, in the midst of one particularly awesome band practice. We’re all friends here -- at least until the end of the set -- and that works for me.