Ra Ra Riot with Bayonne at The Biltmore, 11/2/19
Vancouver couldn’t have asked for a much nicer Saturday night to welcome Ra Ra Riot to town. The November chill was in the air, but you quickly warmed up in the close quarters of The Biltmore Cabaret.
The night club’s floor was already crowded when opening act Bayonne took to the stage. Bayonne is the performing name for experimental musician Roger Sellers from Texas. He released the album Drastic Measures early in the year and shared some of the dreamy tracks with the Vancouver audience.
With the help of a live drummer the songs had more strength to them compared to the polished studio versions. Sellers played the guitar and included loops and synths to create a vibrant performance. It was a well-received opening act and the lineup at his merch table after would attest to that.
Ra Ra Riot came on stage at 9 with a nice introduction to the crowd from frontman Wes Miles. They opened the set with the massively infectious hit “Absolutely” from 2016’s Need Your Light. The energetic opener led into a few older standouts: “Beta Love,” “Boy,” and “Dance With Me” all sent sparks through the room.
“It’s a lovely night to be in Vancouver,” Miles said, “thank you guys.”
Saturday marked show 12 of the Superbloom Tour for the New York indie-pop group. It was the start of the second half of the tour run and was also the furthest destination from their hometown the band would reach on this stretch of dates (and the only Canadian stop aside from Toronto). The band seemed right at home, however, though they were a bit shy; sticking to a tight set with little space for banter.
Off the new album, “Flowers” was the first to play – the song Miles confessed was his favourite to perform live off Superbloom when we spoke to him before the tour. The sparse and chilling “War & Famine” made for a beautiful live piece while the following “Belladonna,” arguably the best from the latest release, had Miles putting his vocals to the test; he passed.
2013’s “Binary Mind” brought an amazing punk energy to the room and the largely twenty-something crowd felt its closest to breaking into dance during the stomping hook.
Soon to follow, 2016’s “Bad Times” came in for one of the highlight performances of the night. One of the band’s most creative refrains, the song exemplifies the power of the splashing hi-hat from drummer Kenny Bernard.
The band appealed to their long-time listeners with a few gems from their 2008 full-length debut The Rhumb Line. “Can You Tell” had Miles alone on stage with an electric and they gave another stripped performance to follow with “Winter ’05;” Miles playing the ukulele.
Coming towards the end of the night we were given a taste of the playful “Dangerous” off their latest followed by the slow-grooving single “Bad To Worse.”
The latter is comparable to the next track on the setlist, from the band’s previous album: “Water” is a song that brought Ra Ra Riot some attention since 2016 after being featured in shows like ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ and ‘Lethal Weapon.’ It’s no wonder; the cinematic atmosphere of the song makes it a perfect companion to an emotional scene. Another one that pushes the limits of Miles’ voice; he performed it wonderfully.
The Biltmore is a cozy venue. There’s no room between the floor and the stage and there wasn’t anywhere for the band to hide before the encore…so they skipped the theatrics and went right into the penultimate song of the night, “Dying Is Fine.” The surprise addition from their first album you’d notice wasn’t even on the setlist if you were able to steal a peek during the show.
Ending the early set shortly after 10, the band chose the Superbloom closer “A Check For Daniel.” A silly but layered song, it was fun to see bassist Mathieu Santos balance the vocal duties with Miles during the chorus (the drawn-out pause before the final hook was brilliant).
Thank you RRR; thank you Bayonne. Until next time.