They didn’t say anything about it from the stage, but last Monday’s concert by Syracuse chamber-popsters Ra Ra Riot was something of a homecoming for the band, considering that they recorded their latest album, “The Orchard,” right here in the Local 518 at Black Dog Recording Studio in Stillwater.
On the other hand, Ra Ra Riot wasn’t very chatty at all on Monday. Maybe they were tired – their show at Jillian’s in Albany was their last concert of the year. Or maybe they were zipping through their show in order to rest up for the taping of their national television spot on “Late Show With David Letterman” the following afternoon.
Either way, the six-piece band let their music do the talking, and truth be told, no chatting up of the crowd was required. “The Orchard” – the band’s sophomore album which was released at the end of August – is chockfull of first-rate material, and while there may not be the endless parade of pop hooks that they managed to cram into their ’08 debut, “The Rhumb Line,” RRR still manages to combine “smart” with “accessible.”
The vocal focus is squarely on the intoxicating choir-boy voice of Wesley Miles, but the band blossoms into its strongest attack when his singing is buttressed by harmonies of cellist Alexandra Lawn and bass master Mathieu Santos on nuggets like “Massachusetts” and the encore of “Foolish.” And while Miles slid effortlessly into a captivating falsetto for “Too Dramatic,” the most intriguing vocal performance of the evening just might have been the baroque ballad “You and I Know” featuring Lawn’s only lead vocal of the show.
Lawn’s cello playing in tandem with violinist Rebecca Zeller leads the band into chamber-pop territory, and they do a great job – both musically and visually. But there’s no question that RRR’s strongest musical suit isn’t the strings but rather the explosive rhythm section of bassist Santos and drummer Gabriel Duquette, who added the big bounce to “Too Too Too Fast,” the stuttering time signatures to “Oh, La,” the math-rock precision to “Ghost Under Rocks” and the reggae spice to the final encore of “Dying Is Fine.”
Unfortunately, I missed opening act Alta Mira altogether; the starting time of the show was apparently changed from 9pm to 8pm. Meanwhile, the Luyas – who held down the middle slot on the bill – were quite mesmerizing. Psychedelic in a very 21st century way. With vocalist Jessie Stein as a commanding presence, the Montreal quartet – also featuring keyboardist Mathieu Charbonneau, drummer Stefan Scheider and French horn player Pietro Amatro – swirled through a delightful, delicious set culled primarily from their upcoming album “Too Beautiful to Work,” due out in February on the Dead Oceans label.
Who would have thunk it? The show started on time. Three bands performed in under three hours – and the headliners played for a full hour. In front of a very sizable audience. And admission was just $5. Kudos to Jillian’s, WEQX-FM and everybody who came out for the show.
Photographs by Timothy Reidy
RA RA RIOT SET LIST
St. Peter’s Day Festival
You and I Know
Can You Tell
Too Too Too Fast
Run My Mouth
Ghost Under Rocks
Dying Is Fine