Ra Ra Riot – Live in 2024

Ra Ra Riot finally came back after a half a decade away, playing Brooklyn Steel....
Ra Ra Riot : Live
Ra Ra Riot : Live

By now, pretty much every musical act that disappeared during the COVID lockdown like everyone else has returned (if they’re gonna return). But there have still been a few laggards, and that absence has only made the heart grow fonder for them. Such has been the case with Ra Ra Riot, who finally came back after a half a decade away, playing Brooklyn Steel on Saturday, May 4th.

Their third show back, this wasn’t just a return. It was also a celebration of the 15th anniversary of The Rhumb Line (QRO review), their wonderful debut full-length. It was also a warm-up for some big gigs opening for old friends Vampire Weekend in the summer (having started around the same time, they shared bills back then at much smaller places – QRO ’07 photos). And it was a chance to showcase some new material, having just put out their first new song in five year, “The Wish”, days before (QRO review). Indeed, it was even a “hometown-ish” show for the band, which started in college up in Syracuse (which also got a shout-out), before gravitating to the Big Apple.

Wes Miles

Still, one’s first questions were have the band aged, and are they rusty? They all looked great, only notable was that singer Wes Miles seemingly hadn’t cut his hair since COVID (QRO interview right before). Miles joked about needing to “shake off the rust – mostly,” and there were not one but two failed false starts on songs. But this was a crowd of long-time fans – yes, there were lots of couples like most Ra Ra Riot shows, but also a dad with his kid on his shoulders (the child did tucker out well before then end, because this show went past her bedtime…).

Ra Ra Riot started with “Boy” from 2010’s sophomore The Orchard (QRO review), then went into two from 2013’s Beta Love (QRO review), wisely delivering a few old-but-not-as-old ones before launching into The Rhumb Line. While their 2007 self-titled EP (QRO review) had first turned heads, it was Rhumb that proved they were ready for the big-time, each track standing the test of time bigly. You still love the cinematic drama of opener “Ghost Under Rocks”, the hope-against-it-all “Dying Is Fine” (Miles wagging his finger to the chorus line, “Not even if death were good”), the speed of “Too Too Too Fast”, and still suspended in their classic cover of Kate Bush’s “Suspended In Gaffa”. Whenever an act plays an old album that made their name back when, there’s always a question of whether they really want to, or just doing it for the fans (and ticket sales). Yet Ra Ra Riot still had their energy of old (even if they did mess up the start to album ender “Run My Mouth”…) – notably Miles whipping out an honest-to-god saxophone for “Oh, La”, because the sax is back, baby!

“And now, some new songs! Well, some newer songs – and one new new song.” Playing all of Rhumb, and from the two subsequent albums before that, meant that the back chunk of the evening was devoted to 2016’s Need Your Light (QRO review), 2019’s Superbloom (QRO review), and actually two new songs. And even if you fell in love with the band back in the Rhumb time, songs such as Superbloom’s “Flowers” didn’t wilt coming right after. Indeed, it was a chance to hear pieces you probably hadn’t listened to in a long time, to step into the “Water” right before the encore break.

And there were the brand new songs. Miles introduced “The Wish” as he strapped on an acoustic guitar for the lovely piece. Then in the encore return Miles introduced the very new, not-out-yet “Orange Shirt”, with its hopeful drama and great sting section. It all ended, after one more false start, with the declaration, “I Need Your Light”.

Bonacci & Santos

It was great to see all the band on stage, guitarist Milo Bonacci in a jumpsuit with bassist Mathieu Santos on one side, drummer Kenny Bernard in the back, and violinist Rebecca Zeller on the other side. But also on Zeller’s side were two new touring members, keyboardist Spencer Miles in the back (though he did get to come up front and play guitar, switching places with Bonacci for a few newer songs), and cellist Emily Brausa next to her. Brausa had toured with Ra Ra Riot after the departure of Alexandra Lawn, but that was a decade ago, and it seemed as if the band no longer employed the electric cello. Thus, it was particularly great to see its frame up there, full strings section at hand (Brausa also got to sing back-up, without cello, on “Too Fast”, having a particularly great time).

strings section

While some things lost to COVID are gone forever (drink prices at Brooklyn Steel will never get back to pre-pandemic levels – QRO venue review), there is so much that we’ve gotten back, so much that we needed back. And now, thankfully, we’ve got Ra Ra Riot back.

Ra Ra Riot

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