The first time I heard Ra Ra Riot was on the radio about three years ago driving to a friend’s house in the summer. I heard “Can You Tell,” their first single off of their first album, “The Rhumb Line.” For a while, I thought it was the new Vampire Weekend single (turns out the two bands are actually pretty tight). When I found out that it was Ra Ra Riot, I checked out “The Rhumb Line” and became a fan for it’s mix of Indie-Poppy vocals, cool bass lines, upbeat and almost Reggae-influenced drums, and, last but not least, violin and cello.
I was lucky enough to see Ra Ra Riot at All Points West 2009 when The Core, in conjunction with Toyota’s Free Yr Radio, got to broadcast live and do interviews from the three day festival—we were the official college radio station of All Points West. Even though the venue, Liberty State Park, was muddy, it was drizzling out, and the sound wasn’t too great, I was still impressed by Ra Ra Riot’s energy and how all the band members came together to put on a great show. It wasn’t exactly a “riot,” but there was definitely ample energy. I enjoyed it.
Last month, Ra Ra Riot released their second album, “The Orchard.” But you wouldn’t really be able to tell that from the set they played at Rutgers’ Cook Campus Center on Thursday, November 11th, 2010. They played a mix of old and new, but they buried their new songs from “The Orchard” in a set that was dominated by songs from “The Rhumb Line.” The crowd was composed of Ra Ra Riot fans of all different walks, and they cheered from time to time, nodded their heads, and clapped. But you could tell the energy just wasn’t there. Maybe after touring for so long after releasing their last album, the “job” of being musicians became just that: a job instead of something fun. RRR’s drummer, Gabriel Duquette, was wearing headphones the whole time—maybe playing to a click track, maybe to soften some of the loudness—but either way, it showed the detachment of the band from the energy they could have put into their live set. Most of the movement on stage was either a band member taking a step forward or backwards or switching from one instrument to another.
The highlights of the set were “Oh, La” and “Too, Too, Too Fast” off of “The Rhumb Line” and “You and I Know” off of “The Orchard,” when cellist Alexandra Lawn chilled things out and took over the vocal role. The most energy was at the end of the show, when they played “Dying is Fine” after an awkwardly short encore cheer. During this last song, Wes, RRR’s vocalist, pumped some energy into the crowd by moving around onstage and high-fiving the audience.
Ra Ra Riot did their “job” to a certain extent: they sounded like a professional band, they sounded like their recording. They can pull off their songs live, and make them sound as good or better than their recordings. But that isn’t all it takes to put on a good live show. The audience at the Cook Campus Center was expecting more energy from the young, catchy band. Sadly, it took until the end of their short 45-minute set for them to get any.