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Monday, January 24, 2011

Friday Night: Ra Ra Riot & Givers Unleash Sound and Fury at Great American Music Hall

Posted By on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Ra Ra Riot at Great American Music Hall on Friday
  • Ra Ra Riot at Great American Music Hall on Friday
Ra Ra Riot
January 21, 2011
@ Great American Music Hall

Better than: The Sound and the Fury, which haunts my forgotten-homework dreams.

In the one-for-all, all-for-one spirit that defines the Ra Ra Riot working philosophy, we interrupt this regularly scheduled review to introduce the next great American oddball indie-pop band. They call themselves GIVERS, and being on the receiving end of their Friday night opening set at Great American Music Hall was no small revelation.

All caps are warranted for this Lafayette, La., band. GIVERS combine all the compositional fortitude of The Dirty Projectors and the abstract vocal hallucinations and percussive explosiveness of Animal Collective. Theirs is a mercurial approach, with whimsical changes of meter at every turn and deliciously weird tonal switches. In short: if William Faulkner was alive and in a band, GIVERS would be it.

Lead singer/guitarist Taylor Guarisco mesmerizes much the same way David Byrne once did (and still does in some contexts). As he sings, his eyes roll up in his eye sockets as if he were possessed, or in search of some part of his musical brain yet to be excavated. It might have creeped us out if the music didn't turn and twist so triumphantly. And, for that matter, if we weren't so busy dancing, which will happen with GIVERS.

Keyboardist/percussionist/vocalist Tiffany Lamson was also a thrill to behold. The band's modern femme fatale lends a sense of Americana soul to otherwise worldly arrangements. When the Afrobeat died down and she wasn't partaking in clangorous cymbal work, Peirce's assured, gutsy howl brought the band back down to some area resembling reality.

​Taken as a whole, GIVERS is an ambitious, genre-fusing project in motion -- upwardly mobile, we hope. Come back soon, ya hear?

Novelty, of course, goes a long way in the what's-new culture of modern indie rock. That might be why Friday's Ra Ra Riot set lacked a certain sense of urgency and gravitas. The show was the band's "sixth or seventh" time in S.F. (including a set at October's Treasure Island Festival), lead vocalist Wes Miles explained Friday near the end of the Syracuse, N.Y., chamber-pop band's set. Still, the group sold out the Great American, which is relevance enough for us.

Ra Ra Riot
  • Ra Ra Riot
While comparisons to Vampire Weekend will always follow Ra Ra Riot (and remind us of this cartoon (midway down the page) and this collaboration, there's more to the band than its scholarly, orchestral leanings. In a word: darkness.

Sadly, real-life tragedy has permeated the story of Ra Ra Riot since the death of drummer John Pike in 2007. With that ominous milestone on the horizon, the trademark cello of Alexandra Lawn and the violin work of Rebecca Zeller take on added solemnity, and songs like "Dying is Fine" become studies in mourning.

Ra Ra Riot
  • Ra Ra Riot
Onstage, it's not a somber affair, but a sense of therapy can be found on close inspection. The song "Too Dramatic," with which the band closed its set, plays like an answer to a haunting past, or possibly an overzealous significant other. That song comes from RRR's 2010 album The Orchard, which comprised about half of Friday's set. The album is a bit of a departure from debut The Rhumb Line, which emphasized the band's frenetic string section and accelerating percussion. The Orchard relies more on the meandering bass lines of Mathieu Santos and Miles' moody storytelling. It comes across as more of an album than a collection of songs, which sometimes poses a problem for the live adaptation.
"Shadowcasting" was one of a few songs off the new album that stood in stark contrast to the more eager, emotionally desperate leanings of say, "Ghost Under Rocks," or "Can You Tell." Bands evolve; these things happen. And what happens next for Ra Ra Riot, besides a bevy of touring, is anyone's guess.

Ra Ra Riot
  • Ra Ra Riot
Critic's notebook: Lead singer Wes Miles looks like a young Chuck Klosterman, with glasses and lobe-length curls of hair. And the rest of the band's males are equally frat-lettucced in the mop department. Friday's show was one of RRR's first without drummer Gabriel Duquette, who abruptly left the band last week after two and a half years with the Rioters. (His final set was a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live the day before the band played S.F.) In Duquette's stead was Kenny Bernard, who handled the transition seamlessly.

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