Ra Ra Riot Lee's Palace, Toronto, ON, March 6
Published Mar 07, 2013James Murphy heard that your band sold your guitars and bought turntables and, subsequently, sold your turntables and bought guitars. In a similar vein, indie orch-pop bands have bought synths, though, admittedly, most have held onto their string sections.
On their third record, Beta Love, New York six-piece Ra Ra Riot stretched their legs, dialing down the Arcade Fire leanings in favour of instruments with plugs. Furthermore, they drew on sci-fi materials for inspiration. Still, don't expect Klaxons.
Despite the sound reconfiguration, their Lee's Palace show managed to bring together much of the overall canon in a cohesive, buoyant and effective way. Much of the credit goes to singer Wes Miles, whose vocals have a marked sheen, à la Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) and that certain singer from the Police.
Backed by a shiny new light setup — a pretty great look, actually — the outfit began with an appropriately brisk "Too Too Too Fast." Sure, it suffered from leadoff sound compression, but its breakneck pace largely compensated.
"Shadowcasting" was a slow burner while "Binary Mind" was hyper-buoyant. Nevertheless, both opted for the all-hands approach that dominates most Ra Ra Riot arrangements. Thus, even differing structures produced wall-of-sound results that, in turn, had many songs flowing together a little too seamlessly.
Regardless, like a Chia Pet it was a grower of a set. Despite Miles' strong falsetto and writhing strings, "For Once" remained relatively inert. Conversely, a disco-synth-driven "Dance with Me" was a stirring highlight that benefitted from its three-piece vocals.
An ill-advised slow jam with a boatload of low end and a nod to D'Angelo, "Wilderness," hurt tempo and amiable if unremarkable takes on "Angel, Please" and "Each Year" did little to rectify the situation.
And then an altogether engaging, soaring version of "Can You Tell" righted the ship. Indie-scat experiment "Beta Love" and a visceral "Run My Mouth" continued the hit streak. A grand cello and rapid-fire vocals stood out on "Ghost Under Rocks" and "Boy" featured the most interesting guitar work of the night, shoring up the group's pinko ethos.
A mildly uneven yet ultimately fulfilling show from a band in transition, it was an intriguing and often compelling evening with plenty of sweat and singalongs.