The audience at last night’s Ra Ra Riot show, their third in a four-night run, skewed towards young and preppy, sporadically spilled beer was met with collegiate cries of "party foul!," and afterwards I overheard more than a few groups discussing the subway routes back to Union Square. It had all the markings of an NYU freshmen mixer.
Lucky for the Class of 2014, they were treated to one of the city’s best new bands, perhaps not even realizing it. The North Highlands that played in the second of two opening slots was not the North Highlands that we’ve come to know and love from their EP — a study in warm, folk-tinged chamber pop. The band that showed up last night pounded hard on their instruments, hopped around onstage, and showed no hesitation letting loose. Opening the set was a downright dance jam elevated by a richness and elegance not too often seen around Brooklyn these days. “Sugar Lips” twirled and “Collar Bones,” even giddily sped up, showcased singer Brenda Malvini's voice — a grounded, honeyed drawl that rounds off anything with an edge ("more" becomes "mora" and so on). By the time the band hit its mid-set stride, any of her early jitters were at bay and anthem “Here’s to You” found her center stage, away from her keyboard, screaming “We don’t care, we don’t care, we don’t care anymore/” Ra Ra Riot certainly had their work cut out for them.
Even though there are moments on their new album, The Orchard, that feel a little schmaltzy and fussy, Ra Ra still managed to charm the socks off the crowd last night. In a live setting, the starry-eyed bunch burst with energy, their string-laden pop songs following suit. In step with Arcade Fire’s prototype for orchestral indie-rock bands, there was a good deal of movement onstage, but for as exuberant as their songs are, they weren’t particularly smiley. Puppy dog singer Wesley Miles pounded on his heart and made other grand gesture with his hands (he played the guitar just once, what he claimed to be his “first time ever playing one in Brooklyn”), but there was the slight sense that they had fallen victim to the going-through-the-motions mode that typically comes with the third show of a four-night gig in the middle of a tour. No matter though: the kids still ate it up. Chants of “Sy-ra-cuse,” a reference to Ra Ra’s alma matter, segued into the encore, a rousing edition of “Dying Is Fine” from their 2007 EP. It was quite good; I just imagine it was even better on Night #1.
Speaking of, look here. A video of "Dying Is Fine" from Tuesday at Bowery Ballroom:
Also, whoever stole that star-shaped tambourine, that was sort of mean . I think Wesley really liked his star-shaped tambourine.