AFP Live Review: Ra Ra Riot @ Rough Trade


Just before the release of their new record, Syracuse’s synth popper’s Ra Ra Riot played a stripped down show at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade. Vocalist Wes Miles, guitarist Milo Bonacci, bassist Mathieu Santos, violinist Rebecca Zeller, and drummer Kenny Bernard joined the audience on the floor of the venue, standing maybe a foot from the front row. The band formed a haphazard circle of mic stands and instruments. In that formation they looked more like a handful of buskers than a band. It was an excellent setting for the soft vocals and synth-soaked songs of the new Ra Ra Riot.

The show was part of a Rough Trade sort of bundle sale. Copies of the band’s album, Need Your Light, that were sold at the record store/venue came with two wristbands. The wristbands allowed wearers to not only get into the in-house show, but also to have their copies signed by the band afterwards. The gig was otherwise closed to the public and a great way to see the band in such a small setting before they come back to New York to play Webster Hall in March. This kind of show has become something of a staple on the Rough Trade schedule. Artists like Odesza, Kendrick Lamar as well as Yelawolf have all done similar in-store performances paired with signings to help promote new releases. Next month, Santigold will hold one of her own for her new album 99 Cents.

Ra Ra Riot’s evening performance preceded both the release of their record and the band’s tour with Sun Club and everyone’s new favorite band PWR BTTM, which begins in March. For this show, the band played a selection from Need Your Light, including “Foreign Lovers” and “Suckers.” One much-awaited song on the setlist was the band’s single “Absolutely.” The track is less straightforward electro-pop when compared to Ra Ra Riot’s previous two albums, yet not as experimental as some of their other songs on the album, like “Bouncy Castle.” Their new work somewhat resembles the band’s debut Ra Ra Riot. A crowd favorite was “Bad Times.” For the bass-laced, synth tune, Santos and Zeller joined Miles at the mic for the occasional harmonization. The band’s touring cellist Emily Brausa also joined in for songs, like “Water,” their newest single. The strings create a perfect layer to the percussion-heavy, high pitched track. The inclusion of the cello on that song also harkened back to the band’s baroque pop days when the band had cellist Alexandra Lawn in their line-up.

“Water” and the title-track “Need Your Light” ended the night. The tracks were produced by Rostam Batmanglij, who recently left Vampire Weekend to all our dismay. Batmanglij was a smart match for the band. He has worked with Miles in the past, forming the band Discovery with him in 2005. His influence can definitely be heard on the two songs. Ryan Hadlock, who produced albums by The Lumineers and Vance Joy, produced the rest of Need Your Light.

by Zoe Marquedant