After Ra Ra Riots recently released album, The Orchard, proved to be somewhat disappointing, thoughts moved on to how the record would translate live. At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the quintets latest stood well alongside their older hits in a set that catered to both hardcore and casual fans alike. First though, We Barbarians and North Highlands took to the stage to warm up the small, yet excited crowd. Both acts put on very different performances that displayed a lot of energy and future promise.
These days, it seems rarer and rarer that you get an opening act that gets the audience as pumped as the main band. We Barbarians definitely succeeded though on getting the Brooklynites dancing and jumping around. You remember when you were in a classroom in grammar school and couldnt wait to get out so you could run around the playground? Well, for We Barbarians, replace classroom with a 3,000 mile car ride from L.A. to New York and replace the playground with the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. From the first song to the last, this band did not stop moving. Guitars were swinging, foots were stomping, and faces were grinning at the overwhelmingly positive their brand of rough indie rock received. Expect to see these guys headlining at the Music Hall themselves soon enough.
Next up was the calmer, less entrancing psychedelic sounds of North Highlands. The quintets set was performed really well, but failed to captivate the audiences attention. In between songs, and even during softer numbers, conversations could be heard taking place all over the venue. Still, North Highlands won a good portion of the crowd over with quick energetic punches and more epic, arena rock-style songs such as Sugar Lips. The best performers were both frontwoman Brenda Malvini, who alternated between playing the keyboard and jumping to the beat, and drummer Jasper Berg who joked with his bandmates as well as the audience.
After what felt like a long set-up time, Ra Ra Riot took the stage to A Manner To Act, a song off their first EP and a surprising choice to open the show. While the few hardcore fans who knew the track were happy, the rest of the crowd looked on in confusion. Luckily, the following four numbers, Boy, Each Year, Oh, La, and St. Peters Day Festival officially started the bands homecoming party.
While Ra Ra Riot has always had a charm in their live performances, assisted by Wes Miles natural talent as a frontman, it was clear that years of constant touring had boosted their confidence and showmanship. Bassist Mathieu Santos held his bass like a dance partner, swinging around while still playing with precision. Miles attempt at playing guitar on Kansai was nervous yet competent for his second time (though a crowd-thrown tambourine seemed much more his style). The most improved member though was drummer Gabriel Duquette, whose addition of drum rolls and fills gave new life to familiar hits like Too Too Too Fast, while propelling The Orchards tracks forward.
While songs from The Rhumb Line were still the better received, The Orchard works much better live than it does on record. Too Dramatic and Massachusetts were played with so much conviction and joy that the crowds unfamiliarity became a moot point. The setlist was well-built as a whole, alternating between their two albums to avoid a string of lesser-known tracks. More surprising than what was included was what was excluded, namely fan favorite Run My Mouth and the soulful You and I Know. The former always created a wonderful singalong that was missed and the latter would have been a fairly unique live track in Ra Ra Riots catalogue.
Despite minor setlist setbacks and a couple technical difficulties, Ra Ra Riots return to Brooklyn came off as energetic and joyful as their shows in support of their debut. All thats changed is that theyve improved in both showmanship and musicianship. If they keep performances like this up, it seems doubtful theyll still be playing such small venues in another two years.