Friday, 20 February 2009
Live Review: Ra Ra Riot + The Answering Machine @ Kings College 17/2/09
Tonight’s Ra Ra Riot gig has been upgraded from Borderline to King’s College – and it’s a masterstroke. Not only did the freshfaced New Yorkers sell out Borderline’s 300 capacity, making them eligible for a bash at flogging the 700 tickets needed to fill the College, they’ve also attracted what feels like half the student population to their gig in the upper echelons of the student union. (Prompting the question: why is it that all student unions look like oversized squash courts?)
It’s already packed when we arrive in time to catch the end of The Answering Machine. They’re a young and lacklustre fourpiece from Manchester, and that’s pretty much all there is to say without being downright nasty. File under ‘landfill indie’ and back away.
Ra Ra Riot are on hand to add some class to proceedings. This Syracuse sextet have been playing together for some three years now, and it shows. Just months after they began showcasing their polished orchestral pop, their drummer, John Pike, was discovered drowned in Massachusetts. It wasn’t enough to put an end to the band, but the scars of the tragedy still run clear on the surface of their music. Nearly all the songs on their debut album ‘The Rhumb Line’ strike of a kind of joyous loss, a resolutely exuberant tribute to a departed friend.
Live, the band manage to fill the stage with infectious energy. Both guitarists seem to have styled themselves on the Ben Folds school of geekery, and are flanked by two pretty young string players brandishing fancy electronic stringed-things that lend an air of professionalism to an otherwise young-looking outfit. The strings define Ra Ra Riot – they carry every track from the realms of upbeat, quirky pop and into a kind of majestic and mesmerising higher plane. This soon becomes evident when the strings segue seamlessly from first track ‘Run My Mouth’ into ‘Each Year’. While the youth of Ra Ra Riot is overt, much like with Welsh pop-ettes Los Camposinos, they aren’t quite so gratingly twee, hitting on a Vampire Weekend-esque kitsch-pop and making it all their own with that string section.
Ra Ra Riot are jubilantly received in Borderline tonight, frontman Wesley running across the front of the stage clapping hands with the crowd during ‘Dying Is Fine’. But the best is saved for the encore – a cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ that blows the Futureheads out of the water. No, really. Wesley’s voice is remarkable, and surrounded by such impressive musicianship, they make the cover their own. Tonight marks the end of the band’s UK tour, so you may have to wait a while to see them perform this side of the pond again, but you’d be well advised to catch Ra Ra Riot on their return.