Ra Ra Riot kick off one last run for 'Rhumb Line'

Review: Syracuse's indie rocker plays an intimate and energetic show at Castaways in Ithaca.

It felt like they never left, but no one was complaining about musical deja vu.

Lead singer Wes Miles called it their, "first show of their last tour of the first album" throughout the night, and Ra Ra Riot reminded fans and friends why they became nearly instant campus heroes at SU not long ago. 

They kicked off an 18-shows-plus tour with Princeton and Maps & Atlases last night in Ithaca, N.Y. at a small club called Castaways. It didn't compare to the festival stages and large auditoriums Ra Ra Riot frequented this summer while opening for Death Cab for Cutie,  but the band looked like they were back in their natural element. The intimate club allowed them to show their home fans that they still provide the same high energy antics, infectious audience interplay and crisp musicianship that built their reputation in the first place.

Photo: Nathan Mattise
Wesley Miles works the microphone for Ra Ra Riot.

The band didn't lack any enthusiasm while playing through a well-rounded setlist for over an hour. Favorite songs from "The Rhumb Line" album were weaved between staples like "Can You Tell" and "Each Year."  Tracks like "A Manner To Act" and "Too Too Fast" worked the crowd into such a frenzy that a woman identified herself as an employee in order to reach the front of the stage, only to immediately dive off to crowdsurf. The crowd's immense response to the band even seemed to catch Miles off guard as he called it the, "singiest crowd we've had this year."

Two tracks that Ra Ra Riot is presumably working on for the next album, were worked into the performance, and both received good crowd reactions (alleviating any worries that may be arising about a potential sophomore slump).

There was no sign of it on the visible set list, but after an easy minute full of "Ra Ra Riot" chants, last night's encore came from the band's early years. They ended with "Everest" from their EP and their version of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love," a song that seemed to close nearly every show they played back in their Euclid Avenue days at SU. 

Prior to Ra Ra Riot, the crowd saw two up-and-coming acts: Princeton and Maps & Atlases. Princeton started the night with a mellow sound and clean performance that, at times, seemed to incorporate elements of The Cure, Men at Work and Vampire Weekend (right down to the combovers from the band's leading brother duo). The band prefaced their songs with a few deadpan remarks saying, this one's more emotional, and this song's a doozy. But overall, their energy could not compete with Ra Ra Riot's upbeat approach to come later in the evening.

Maps & Atlases on the other hand were a pleasant surprise that won over the crowd. They use folkish vocal elements reminiscent of Fleet Foxes or The Magic Numbers (and not just because of the plethora of flannel and facial hair on stage). They might also remind people of the Kings of Leon for their driving rock with hints of blues. The band was impressively tight, which was largely attributed to their drummer, Chris Hainey.  He displayed fantastic techniques while maintaining a steady groove. Hainey utilized his entire kit and showcased some intricate and precise rhythm patterns. (Just note that he's one set player who doesn't have a jam block on stage just for show.)

The night was a good balance of the new and the familiar, even for the oldest Ra Ra Riot fans. There were plenty of highlights to choose from, but the loudest applause was saved for the last notes of "Hounds of Love," as Wes Miles took the microphone at the close of the show.

"The next time you see us, we'll have a new album. Thanks."

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