Stand among a sold-out throng of toe-tapping, scream-singing, fist-pumping Ra Ra Riot fans, and you begin to understand how these Syracuse, New Yorkers got their start. With deep roots in the university party scene, these five have figured out how to take energetic, smart, and sometimes jaw-droppingly speedy compositions from record to stage seamlessly. And watching it go down, you almost can’t help but bop along.
Prior to the Riot, though, Louisiana newcomers Givers started a ruckus all their own with an impressively genre-bending set. Things started off with the island-style electronica of “Up Up Up,” then morphed into an exuberant outpouring of thumping, Afro-beat inspired percussion, Southern rock riffs, synth tricks, and Vampire Weekend-y tropicalia. At the center of it all, part-time frontwoman Tiffany Lamson busted out some seriously earth-shaking notes, going low, high, and everywhere in between with the power of a pint-sized gospel star. Needless to say, the April LP drop can’t come soon enough.
Of course, even the most staggering of opening acts couldn’t rain on Ra Ra Riot’s parade. The quintet came out swinging with “Massachusetts,” aided in no small part by frontman Wes Miles’s huge stage presence. His arms flailed and gestured throughout the night as he jumped from keys to center stage, and then back again with the infectious enthusiasm of a child. Flanked by his string-toting ladies (namely, cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Becca Zeller) and backed by a wall of synth, Miles busted out his best Phil Collins for “Too Too Too Fast.” Later, “Shadowcasting” acted as the model example of Ra Ra Riot’s recent growth, building slowly and confidently with a buoyant electric guitar at its center. “Can You Tell” was a swelling mix of Miles’s big, earnest voice, Zeller’s furious bowing, and drummer Gabriel Duquette’s spot-on beats and rim clicks. “Oh, La” rose to all its baroque recorded beauty, and encore starter “Ghost Under Rocks” turned the place into something akin to, well, a raucous college party.
As the whole thing came to a close, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the energy and execution of it all. Even at its most repetitive, or self-indulgent, there’s an honesty pouring through the Ra Ra Riot repertoire—and nailed live, it’s well worth the price of admission.