Ra Ra Riot hit SOhO’s stage on Jan. 19 with professional poppy splendor, and the line between profound dork-dom and complete bad-assery has never been so blurred.
The boisterous Wednesday-night crowd made the almost-full house packed with energy, and while they may have been perturbed that SOhO security roped them off into a small corner of the venue, the underage audience members created a tangible buzz of excitement.
The opening band, Givers, a quintet from Louisiana who emanated a youthful joy articulated with rich vocals and a sort of synthesized Southern pop-rock (oxymoronic, one would have presumed), mirrored the good vibrations from the audience. Leads Taylor Guarisco and Tif Lamson balanced each other out nicely, Guarisco often bouncing about like a bizarre-yet-precious court jester and Lamson ambidextrously taking on three different instruments per song and generally looking awesome.
But, while Givers was all good and dandy, the kids came for Ra Ra Riot. And, like the opening act, much of Ra Ra Riot’s pull rested with its female members. In fact, somewhat belligerent male undergraduate shouts of “Alex is hot!” (referring to the band’s cellist Alexandra Lawn) came from pockets of the audience.
Ra Ra Riot opened the set with tunes from its newest album The Orchard, released last August, which strays just slightly from the strictly upbeat pop on its debut album, The Rhumb Line. The audience’s actual knowledge of the tunes was impressive: Almost everyone was singing along with lead vocalist Wes Miles. The ladies of the group flanked Miles on both sides, creating an aesthetic yin-yang effect as classy, fair-haired Rebecca Zeller played violin and scantily-clad brunette Alexandra Lawn rocked out on the cello.
This night was the band’s first show in over a month, during which the members both rested and got a new drummer, Kenny Bernard. Given this circumstance, the masterful showmanship they displayed at SOhO was wonderfully appreciated. Each song transitioned smoothly, with Miles exuding an air of confidence which nuzzled against cockiness.
Really, the amount of comfort Ra Ra Riot showed with their instruments, the audience and each other is a rare sight in this generation of awkward indie bands. Maybe stemming from their college days at Syracuse, the band interacted with such ease that observers forgot the snobbery of string instruments and the nerdiness of coke-bottle glasses, and focused on how damn cool the entire group looked.
Eventually the band played crowd favorites such as “Can You Tell” and got the audience dancing with its newest hits “Boy” and “Too Dramatic.” Another refreshing aspect of the performance was the speediness of the finale. Rather than leaving me standing behind tall men in flannels fist-pumping and screaming “ENCORE!” for 15 minutes, the band returned quickly after the initial set to deliver a two-song finale, ending on concert staple “Dying Is Fine.”
Ra Ra Riot is not one of my favorite bands, but after seeing the show at SOhO, I can’t deny they’re doing something right. When Wes Miles took the mic to say goodbye in a surprisingly youthful voice, my friend turned to me to laugh, “They’re so nerdy.” I couldn’t help but think nerdy has never been so hot.