Ra Ra Riot. Photo courtesy of Barsuk Records
Ra Ra Riot played their sixth headlining 9:30 Club show on Sunday night with a couple of experimental bands.
The opening band, Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce’s PWR BTTM, warmed up the crowd for the night of energetic acts. With their garage glam rock, strident vocals and hilarious banter, PWR BTTM quickly became the new favorite band of everyone in the audience. Hopkins threw his sequins scarf off after the first song.
“I don’t need an accessory. I am already superfluous,” Hopkins said from behind his guitar and sparkly face paint.
PWR BTTM. Photo courtesy of Riot Act Media
The two of them filled the room with just some drums and guitar, blaring and resonating instrumentation leaving no need for any more members on stage. On the silly, fun track, “Dairy Queen,” Hopkins sustained a yell at the bridge while Bruce sang quirky lines.
“We can fall in love at the Dairy Queen,” Bruce sang, “But right now, I’m in the shower.”
In between each track, the pair cracked jokes. They started into a nice flowing song, the crowd cuddling or swaying to the rhythm. Then Bruce beat their drum and Hopkins soloed on his gritty electric guitar, the audience members moving away from others to opt for headbanging instead. The band was a nice blend of unique experimentation and rock ’n’ roll knack. They switched instruments halfway through the set, performing the pulsing instant classic “I Wanna Boi.”
Sun Club, a psychedelic pop band of five from Baltimore, was up next. Currently on tour with Ra Ra Riot and soon to be with Ezra Furman, Sun Club has been all over the nation on tours with various other well-known bands. But they are still getting it right, releasing their first LP, The Dongo Durango, just this October.
Sun Club. Photo courtesy of Riot Act Media
The boys started their band as neighbors, taking a while to get to the electro, dramatic sound they had on Monday. On stage, the godly reverb of Mikey Powers on vocals come through as Kory Johnson’s drums and synthesizer created a white noise buzz. Devin McCord’s drum kit rhythms layered over it all. Shane McCord sang and Powers screamed, both incoherent and lost in the rapid but cathartic instrumentation. Somewhere in the jumble, Johnson could be heard alternating between screams and whispers, binding the pieces together.
Following the many electronic artists from city, Sun Club definitely introduces a new form of music, one that could be art at some point if they work on their potential. But, while the haunted house-esque display put on seemed to get people going and having fun, the “art” of their music did not seem to come out. Things were messy, making it hard to understand and communicate. At one point, the band held up a baby with a blade stuck in its head. While this silly act was a total crowd-pleaser and the band had decent stage presence, the audience may have been more fulfilled by cohesive songs to go along with the show and not bits and pieces strung together. Sun Club has the means to make it and with their next project coming up, they seem to be headed there.
The audience cheered with excitement when the act they came to see finally got up on stage. Need Your Light, Ra Ra Riot’s fourth studio album, was released just a few weeks ago. The clean, more polished sound hides their DIY roots and marks the tenth anniversary that the band has played together. Even the concert, one in a series of tours benefiting Oxfam, had a larger scale, stadium feel despite 9:30 Club’s known delicate intimacy. With their large flashing light fixtures, the indie pop band bounced and sweat along with their tunes as the full house watched intently.
Frontman Wes Miles, while being multi-talented in instrumental skill, decided to simply sing the vibrant lyrics in his range-spanning, light vocals. Rebecca Zeller’s violin and the new touring cellist brought an orchestral sound to songs like “Oh, La” and “St. Peter’s Day Festival.” Mathieu Santos, Milo Bonacci and Kenny Bernard contrasted this with their electric rock sound. Each band member focused on his or her part and it all naturally synced together into a unified track.
Ra Ra Riot is stronger than they were pre-hiatus, when they played DC9. They are now more self-aware, able to bloom and continue on this musically realized path. At the song “Bad Times,” Miles grabbed an acoustic guitar and his glasses, half-joking that he was finally able to see the audience. The drums and strings held off until Miles and the backup vocalist got to the second chorus. Right on the line, everything lit up and the others’ rapid fingerpicking started.
Miles went back to the band’s first album with “Can You Tell,” PWR BTTM’s Hopkins screaming along to the song from the balcony above the stage. A few more tracks later and after an encore with the built-up masterpiece, “I Need Your Light,” Ra Ra Riot left the stage having presented their truest, most authentic sound.