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Recap: Ra Ra Riot @ Union Transfer

Early reviews of Ra Ra Riot’s third LP, Beta Love, might suggest that you stay away. With the departure of their cellist and the adoption of a shiny, electronic dance-pop sound, it is like they have decided that indie-dom is for the birds. I must admit that upon first listen, I thought I was listening to the second album from Discovery (lead singer Wes Miles’ collaboration with Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij). Situated somewhere between Passion Pit and The Virgins, I was unsure what I was listening to. To state it flat out, I was a skeptical son-of-a-bitch.

If you are a Ra Ra Riot fan with similar sentiments, I suggest you head out to see them perform this batch of songs live. Without the overdubbed voices and with some of the electronic flourishes stripped from the songs, they feel less like b-sides from other bands and more like the sweet, slightly melancholic indie band that we grew to love.

Thursday night’s show at Union Transfer showcased the continued brilliance of Miles’ voice and the particular brand of earnest and wisdom within their music. A great mix of old and new, the set was a reminder that although the packaging may be different, there are some great tracks on their new LP and that their live act hasn’t suffered at all.

Starting with an upbeat track from their first LP, the band began the set with some serious strength. I have seen them before and it continues to amaze how well the sound is balanced with these guys—no instrument seems to be too quiet or too loud. The same was true on Thursday, even when the keyboards and electro sounds being to kick in.

“Binary Mind” was a ball of energy with its zig-zaggy melody that seems to make the entire band smile. “Beta Love,” which occasionally sounds a little forced and saccharine on record, was really warm and sunny here. Live drums can do wonders, can’t they? I was in love with the slightly pared back versions of “When I Dream” and “Is It Too Much,” slow songs with beautiful lyrics that really come to life when given the musical space to do so.

If I had any real criticism, it’s that Wes didn’t sing alone. The man’s voice is so pure and capable of so much that no one else can hold a candle to him in that band. The frequent pitchiness and general meh-ness of violinist Rebecca Zellers’ voice, was a total distraction in some tracks, including the near perfectly performed (and crowd favorite) “Ghost Under Rocks.” Her string work is pitch perfect every time (she makes “Dying is Fine” extraordinary for me)—that is her strength and she should stick to it. Get him some backup singers if you need to fill in some vocals, but honestly just let the man be. His voice can literally make a crowd swoon. — Darren White

Ra Ra Riot @ Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA – January 24, 2013
01 Too Too Too Fast
02 Shadowcasting
03 Binary Mind
04 Oh La
05 Beta Love
06 Angel Please
07 Too Dramatic
08 St. Peter’s Day Festival
09 Is It Too Much
10 Dance With Me
11 Can You Tell?
12 When I Dream
13 For Once
14 Run My Mouth
15 Ghost Under Rocks
16 Boy
17 Dying Is Fine
18 I Shut Off

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