You could say there’s a lot riding on tonight’s gig. The first time this reviewer ever saw Syracuse 5-piece Ra Ra Riot was way back in 2008 (at Club Lambi, with Walter Meego; there’s a blast from the past!), and turnout was meagre. Unperturbed, they kept plugging away, visiting our fair city with each record, with only moderate improvements in crowd size at their visits to Il Motore in 2010 and again in 2013; Bassist Mathieu Santos remembers it being about 30 people when asked after the show about that most recent visit. Don’t remember it being quite that bad, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of crowd Ra Ra Riot deserve for the solid discography they’ve put together to date.
Violinist Rebecca Zeller says, also after the show, tongue-in-cheek (presumably), that if tonights show was like all those others, “that’s it for Montreal!” Guitarist Milo Bonacci alludes jokingly to a sense of dread he feels when the Montreal tour stop comes around. Clearly then, it’s not just myself that comes to the show with a sense of trepidation as what tonight’s gig, a third visit to Il Motore (now called Bar Le Ritz after a refurbishment and a well-needed facelift), will bring. Badly attended gigs are awkward affairs, for band and fan alike.
The signs are good upon arrival. And The Kids are playing, and Bar Le Ritz is packed. Access to the front row is tough (how to take photos now…?), and everyone in the place seems engaged with And The Kids, who sound a little like Bleached (coincidentally gracing this very same stage the following night), fronted by PJ Harvey. Their tunes are instantly likeable, very catchy, and even elicit a small section of pogo-ing; no mean feat for an ultra-cool venue like Bar Le Ritz, and especially so for a support band here! The sight of a set concluding with singer and guitarist lying on their backs pedalling their feet against each other is also a first for many, myself included!
Ra Ra Riot take to the stage at 11:20, and cannot fail to notice the size of the crowd before them. Looks like people didn’t sneak off early to catch the last Metro, and are really here for Ra Ra Riot. They launch right into the classic Too Too Too Fast, from 2008 debut The Rhumb Line, and the stage erupts in bright light, illuminating the whole venue, and creates a carnival-like atmosphere. Certainly a refreshing change from the dimly-lit, moody vibe that usually goes down in this room! The pogo-ing contingent get back to work in the front row, and don’t stop for the rest of the evening.
Binary Mind, from 2013’s Beta Love immediately follows to keep up the pace, and then Oh, La, another Rhumb Line classic, with its dominant string section and disjointed drum cymbals, shows off the classic sound this band have developed over the last 10 years of playing together. The band regularly rotate instruments throughout the set, adding further to the visual spectacle, with frontman Wes Miles switching to the keys for Foreign Lovers, and even lead acoustic guitar for Bad Times. Sandwiched in between these, a rousing rendition of Beta Love is met with a good chunk of the crowd trying to match Wes’ falsetto as “you will be my BETA LOVE!” rings out from all involved. Right after this song, Wes confirms what any of us old-schoolers were thinking, that this is “by far and away our best show in Montreal!”
Dance With Me, also from 2013’s Beta Love, receives the biggest singalong of the night, and the section of pogoers continues to swell in size. Boy, from 2010’s The Orchard, is the closest thing to a perfect indie-pop song you will ever find, with its driving bass line and catchy guitar hooks, and is always a set highlight. Current lead single Water from latest album I Need Your Light closes the set, and also triggers a huge singalong. Although somewhat of a ballad by Ra Ra Riot’s standards, bassist Mathieu still manages to throw some seriously glam-rock poses with his bass guitar. The band elects to play right through into their 2-song encore of Dying Is Fine and I Need Your Light, both of which are rapturously received by everyone, and especially the pogoers; at this point, that group has grown to include even guitarist Milo. 12:30 rolls around and the band depart the stage after an epic 70-minute set.
Why was tonight’s crowd so much bigger, louder, and more receptive than at all other Montreal shows to date? Speaking with band afterwards, nobody can really figure it out. Wes suggests maybe they had better support bands this time? Maybe it was the fact the show was a Friday night, and not a random weekday? Whatever the reason, tonight was the Montreal show Ra Ra Riot have always deserved, and it’s safe to say that they’ll be back again – minus the sense of dread.
Too Too Too Fast
Every Time I’m Ready To Hug
Can You Tell
Dance With Me
Dying Is Fine
I Need Your Light
Review and photos – Simon WilliamsShare this :