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Ra Ra Riot + Bear Hands play Bowery (3/7)

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Last night’s show at the Bowery Ballroom was truly one for the memories. We’ve all had a show like last night’s. It was one of those, where a band that you’ve never heard of before absolutely blows you away, instantaneously making you a fan yearning to run home and find their myspace page. Prior to last night, the last show I had been to like this was in August, where a bill featuring Tokyo Police Club, Jukebox the Ghost, and ironically that very band from Syracuse who I had come to see last night, caused mass frenzy at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC.

At that D.C. show, I was both overwhelmed by the piano pop-rock of Jukebox and the musical passion of Ra Ra Riot. It was gripping music, and by the time Tokyo Police Club came onto stage, they didn’t have a shot. I had found two bands that night, who still to this day, rank in my top five. After watching Brooklyn’s Bear Hands finish their 40 minute set last night, I think it safe to say that they may soon be entering this “prestigious” category as well.

With a sound reminiscent of the Thermals and energy equal to Chicago punk band the Falcon, Bear Hands offered a truly captivating presence on the stage. The band’s overall musicality was what you would expect from a seasoned band of 20 years. Guitarist Ted Feldman’s guitar playing was perhaps only matched by the intensity of bassist Val Loper’s rhythms. Dylan Rau exemplified the definition of a frontman perfectly, with a vocals that echoed throughout Bowery and an attitude that captivated the audience in such a way, you’d think a bear was truly in the building.

Ending with the quirky “Long Lean the Queen,” a song I have since downloaded and listened to over 10 times since last night, Bear Hands set quite a precedent for the band to come. Fortunately, this time around, that band was Ra Ra Riot, who themselves have upstaged quite a few headliners in their time (ie., Tokyo Police Club).

Ra Ra Riot are one of those bands whose recorded material truly don’t do them justice. For whatever reason, the passion and the musicianship of the Syracuse based band just doesn’t translate well. As the band took the stage last night, graced with some obviously new and quite pretty instruments, they sounded even fuller and bigger than ever. The beauty of Rebecca Zeller’s violin and Alexandra Lawn’s cello playing combined with the ruckus of electricity produced by bassist Mathieu Santos and guitarist Milo Bonacci once again made for truly powerful and euphoric music. We’re talking about music, which puts people to tears, the emotional state of more than a few fans at the end of last night’s set.

Yet perhaps most fittingly, Ra Ra Riot began last night’s show in the completely opposite manner. As frontman Wesley Miles entered the stage in front of the sold out crowd, he explained that the band would like to try something different. Accompanied solely by his own keyboard playing and the soft beats produced by new drummer Cameron Wisch, Miles performed a beautiful solo rendition of “Crazy Days,” a tribute to the band’s original drummer John Pike, who tragically lost his life just last summer. The performance was bittersweet, exemplifying the true sincerity and realness of Ra Ra Riot’s music.

The other four members of the band soon took the stage and the familiar guitar rifts of “A Manner to Act” filled Bowery. Whether charged by the tribute, the sold out crowd singing along in front of them, a clear sign that the band is truly making it, or a combination of both, Ra Ra Riot played with even more passion and more energy than they did that night I became a fans. “Everest” was jaw dropping, while “St. Peter’s Day Festival” was as impressive as it was beautiful.

Of the new material performed, Ra Ra Riot plan on releasing their debut LP sometime this Spring, “Anthony” offered a melodic and catchy sound, while another showcased the elegance and grace of Ra Ra Riot’s small, but powerful orchestra section.

But in the end, Ra Ra Riot performance(s) of “Ghosts Under the Rock” perhaps stole the show. Of all their material, the song perhaps best highlights both the musicianship and passion of the band. The tranquility of the violin, met with the eeriness of the bass and cello, and the echoing vocals of Miles, left Bowery in dead silence. They had witnessed a band that not any form of digital media could justify, a band with a sound that can speak for any emotion, and a band who in the end, were just having fun.As they finished the night with a fan requested second encore of a second performance of “Ghost Under the Rocks,” Ra Ra Riot appeared as awed as the crowd. Last night, they took the next step in their musical journey – something prior to last night, they themselves weren’t even expecting.

[Ra Ra Riot on Myspace]

[Bear Hands on Myspace]

Check Out:
Bear Hands – “Long Lean Queen”
Ra Ra Riot – “Dying is Fine”

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