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Friday, April 15, 2011

Ra Ra Riot w/ Generationals @ Turner Hall Ballroom

April 13, 2011

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To someone who had never seen Ra Ra Riot live, and might have only heard a song here and there, the crowd at the Syracuse, N.Y., band's Wednesday concert must have seemed slightly overwhelming. The noticeably young—and exceptionally good-smelling—crowd seemed to come straight from the depths of some bright shopping center, used to a constant stream of pleasant sounds and sights. It was a fitting audience for a band similarly defined by its pleasantness.

Vocalist Wes Miles' light, boyish tenor led his band's chamber-pop compositions, full of pluck and showmanship and mainly pulled from the recent release The Orchard. To watch Ra Ra Riot live is to watch a string quartet of beautiful, young people play their instruments as if they are playing a rock show—the band still creates music that is obviously pop, but where the main outlets in most pop bands would be guitars and keys, Ra Ra Riot turns to strings. With their combination of musicianship and stage presence, violinist Rebecca Zeller and cellist Alexandra Lawn truly make the band something unique. A cellist who can sing and (sort of) dance while playing? That undeniably takes more than the normally allotted amount of human coordination.

Combined with the muscular contributions of bassist Mathieu Santos and new drummer Kenny Bernard, those classical-pop flirtations made for an ultimately captivating performance, even if the band came across, at times, as slightly plastic in sound. If one had closed their eyes, the effect wouldn't have been quite as powerful. Ra Ra Riot is one of those outfits that works best when seen firsthand. They have undeniable stage-side spirit (comparable to that of fellow New Yorkers Vampire Weekend and the chaotic Broken Social Scene), yet the young, nearly emo-sounding qualities (Jimmy Eat World, classical-style?) make it clear that Ra Ra Riot, although enjoyable for the obvious musicianship, is a band for the young, still with their hearts on their sleeves and stars in their eyes.

New Orleans openers Generationals ably combined an easygoing attitude with extremely likable '80s- and '90s-reminscent pop, wobbling from glam to vintage appeal, with a wee bit of Adam Ant, Grandaddy, Iggy Pop and Fountains of Wayne peeking around the corner. Featuring a gang that ran the gamut from hippie to plaid-clad preppies to mod, Generationals came off as slightly oddball, visually, but sonically the band cemented a thoughtful scope of well-constructed pop built solidly upon keys and guitars, presented with a relaxed, yet dynamic, attitude. Zipping through new material from their just-released Actor-Caster, Generationals left the stage amid a squalling feedback loop characteristic of Grandaddy's bizarro electronic landscapes.