For a band as relatively unknown as Ra Ra Riot--or at the very least, as green (and I don't mean in the Let's-Give-Al-Gore-The-Noble-Peace-Prize-For-Telling-Everyone-It's-Hot-Out sort of green)--they sure have been through one helluva ringer. Set back by the departure of their lead singer in 2006, and eventually devastated by the death of drummer John Ryan Pike in 2007, the band as of yet had only an EP to their name. It's enough for even a major rock outfit to disband and seek refuge in the formation of new projects or at least a 9 - 5, but Ra Ra Riot persevered, releasing The Rhumb Line this month on Barsuk Records.
Despite the unfortunate connotations one might associate with hyper poppers the Go! Team based solely on their name, Ra Ra Riot is quite unlike what one would expect. With vocals that occasionally call to mind the Kinks or James Mercer (among a million other unrelated singers) and soaring guitar melodies buttressed by dissonant strings, Ra Ra Riot's 10-song full length is at once a cohesive whole and a unique collection of paeans.
From the wobbling cello see-sawing on album opener "Ghost Under Rocks" to the punkish drumline in "Each Year," most songs follow a formula that builds them gradually around Wesley Miles' trills before dissolving into a string-centric flourishes. The orchestral restructuring is a beautiful thing to experience here, as Miles laments, "It all falls apart," on "St. Peter's Day Festival," and a sweetly drawn out violin links one part of the melody to the next, the thread weaving its way throughout The Rhumb Line. Like the pervasive sadness over Pike's passing, Ra Ra Riot imbue their songs with a certain amount of pathos, yet never tread too heavily in the waters of self-pity. If anything, it's a poignant tribute to a friend who was lost, and then residual hope that's left over is what makes the album soar.
For fans of The Arcade Fire's noisy chamber pop or "Walcott"-ish Vampire Weekend theatrics (minus the insouciant LES 'tude), Ra Ra Riot will certainly augment their iTunes. For everyone else, with an album as lovely and cohesive as The Rhumb Line from a band as resilient as Ra Ra Riot, people won't be asking, "Who?" for long.
"In a host of ways, the skunk is the Israel of animaldom. Both Israel and skunks are surrounded by hostile neighbors, but in both cases their would-be aggressors know full well that attacking would only mean their own instantaneous demise, or perhaps a long bath in tomato juice, followed by days of solitude, even after you burn your clothes and shave your head."- Animal Review on Skunks
You know, Sunday started out so inconspicuously. By day numero trés we were practically marinating in hubris over our stellar planning abilities. Public transportation? Piece of cake. We conquered the BART, the Muni was barely a blip on our radars as we jingle-jangled down Market with pockets full of change. Food? Forgettaboutit. We'd figured it all out. By Sunday we had a plan in place that would inch us as close to the front of the Twin Peaks stage as we were going to get, and with this plan, the idea that we would be experiencing Stars, Andrew Bird, Broken Social Scene, and Wilco in their full front-row glory since the stars had aligned, placing our top favorites in the same location for the duration of the festival.
It was flawless. We just had to make a quick pit stop at the Oakland Enterprise Rent-a-Car to add Janelle and I as drivers on the rental Mike commandeered for the trip. He was flying home early for work, and the idea was that in order to get our tired arses back home, we'd add J and I as drivers at the last possible moment: the most cost-efficient and dare I say it, brilliant way of beating the system. I felt particularly puffed up with pride that morning as it was most certainly my idea to wait until Sunday to add drivers. We pulled into the parking lot at 9 a.m. as I was still wiping the sleep out of my eyes and marveling at the mass of erudite brilliance floating between my ears. I hopped out of the car and strolled to the darkened glass door.
Monday - Saturday: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.Sunday -
wait a second.
Sunday - CLOSED.
Panic. Mike's face at that moment went gray and melted into the looming marine layer. "It's FINE," I chirped, fumbling with my phone. "Um..."
Mike suggested I call the San Francisco Airport, since surely their location would be open. 411 connected the call--ring, ring--"Welcome to Enterprise Rent-a-Car! Our offices are currently closed."
I hung up the phone. We were driving now, aimlessly and without purpose or direction. Mike glanced in my direction. "They're closed, aren't they?"
"I'm going to have to drive it home. I have to drive it home. I have to miss the show and my flight and drive it home," Mike resolved, and the terrible weight of those words began to sink in.
"No, no-nononono-nonono-no-no. No. There has to be something we can do," I reasoned pitifully. Finally I decided to call the Enterprise HQ. A few minutes of John Mayer hold music later,
"Enterprise Rent-a-Car headquarters, this is Chiquita."
Oh, of course.
"Chiquita, I'm having a bit of a dilemma," I said. Her advice was like a miraculous Godsend: Just go to the San Francisco Airport. Yes, they're open. Yes, I have the hours in front of me. Yes, ma'am, seven days a week. Sure, I can connect you. Thank you. Thank you. Is there anything else I can do? Scrape Mike's stomach off the asphalt where it plummeted a few minutes ago? No, ma'am, no. Can't do that.
So with no map and barely a clue, we set out from Oakland to the San Francisco Airport. Three and a half hours after our carefully laid plans combusted into a vaporous cloud over Oakland, we arrived at the festival, found our friends camped out at the front of the stage, and promptly downed an icy Heineken.
Thank heaven for corporate sponsorship.
Driving across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.
A detour, but a fun one; Jeff Buckley was singing at this point
And every breath we drew was hallelujah
Once we settled in, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. Looming above me and lit by the sun was my good friend Adam, who surprised us by showing up at the festival at the last minute. Below is a video he took of the day, and the middle portion is me realizing who he was.
What in the--? ADAM!
But what about the music? Oh, that.
The music, I'm delighted to say, was euphoric. After Stars' so-so set, I settled in and offered up my heart, my dowry, and the fourth finger on my left hand to Andrew Bird, whose honey-smooth whistling and whiplash performance nearly turned my knees to jelly and set my spine ablaze. In his special whistle-language I imagined he said to me, "Laurel, you are the shizz-nit. Can I please be Mr. Laurel Dailey?"
Oh, Andrew. You can.
Our surprise visiter
Amy Millan of Stars
Mr. Laurel Dailey
No, really. I would follow him to the ends of the earth.
Maybe further if he promised to buy me a puppy.
But OH! How that was only the beginning! Broken Social Scene swarmed the stage following my special date with Andrew Andrew Bird's performance. They pulled out all the stops on this, their last show of the summer, coaxing the crowd into a dazed, contented sway during "Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," and completely, unyieldingly obliterating us all with "7/4 (Shoreline)," "Fire Eye'd Boy," and Brendan Canning's "Churches Under the Stairs." It was a woozy mish-mash of musicians and exhilaration; The final call-and-response Kevin Drew initiated with the crowd sent a shiver racing from the top of my head down to my heels, despite baking in the unexpected afternoon sun. Oh, and did I mention that the guitarist from Pavement came out and played with them? 'Cuz he totally did.
Liz from Broken Social Scene
Collapsing in a heap on the grass following their performance, we were surrounded on all sides by a crush of bodies all vying for a coveted spot near the stage for the grand finale of the day: Wilco.
From the moment I forked over my two-fiddy for this festival, the one thing I was looking forward to the most was dancing in the golden light of late Summer to Wilco, who are, by my estimation, the most perfect festival band to ever grace the mottled grassy hallowed ground of Summer festivals across the world. And I was not disappointed.
As the sun blasted through our waving arms and swaying heads, Jeff Tweedy plucked a handful of perfect songs from his expansive oeuvre and gave them to Nels Cline, who is the definitive and final Guitar Hero of the current world. By the time Tweedy paid tribute to those revered California stars, I and everyone around me, exhaled in perfect unison, the absolute end to an outstanding festival.
I'm saving my pennies for next year.
Bands seen: Liars, Lupe Fiasco, Regina Spektor, The Walkmen, Cake
Bands heard in passing: Two Gallants, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Bands (regretfully) missed: Devendra Banhart, M.Ward, Two Gallants
Saturday was equally foggy, the entire festival buzzing beneath a pale cloud tent. We were quickly becoming experts at the Bay Area transportation system, but our expertise only extended so far; time management was regretfully still lacking, so I wasn't able to see the beginning of Devendra Banhart's set before catching Liars at the Panhandle stage. Nevertheless, we plundered on and with only a Heineken in my system come 3 o'clock we scooted up near the front of the crowd for Liars.
Frontman Angus Andrew pranced onto the miniscule Panhandle Stage with all the bravado of a much larger band playing an infinitely larger venue. Methinks opening for tourmates Radiohead is due partial credit? Regardless, the band killed it with an energetic show that left my ears in a muted haze. I took a much needed rest during Lupe Fiasco (bass-heavy, sounded distorted; a bit of an odd vibe in the middle of the brightest part of the day) and braved the interminable portapotty line, asked twice if I'd like "herbs" by gentle, well-meaning peaceniks whose half-lidded expressions evinced total and utter global contentment.
We then hustled over to Regina Spektor. The last time I saw Ms. Spek, I had wilted into a sweaty heap on the dusty polo fields at Coachella, taking refuge in the shade of sinewy bodies and wishing very much for a gallon of water. I was finally able to fully appreciate the dazzling spectrum of her talents; from an acappella melody ending in a guttural drag of the throat to the heartbreaking ache of "Samson," the crowd and myself were completely and utterly entranced.
Back to the opposite end of the festival grounds, we caught an entirely excellent set from The Walkmen, whose lead singer, Hamilton, revealed himself to be 1) a fantastic showman, and 2) so adorable I just might enter into a reverse-polygamist relationship with he and Andrew Bird, if both gentlemen are acquiescent to the idea.
And they should be.
What happened next I can only shrug and try to explain the best way I know how. First things first, raise your hand if you can remember a particular band from your formative high school years that you just might fondly refer to as "OMG MY FAVORITE BAND EVER!" Anyone? Third Eye Blind? Any takers for Weezer or Pavement or Eagle Eye Cherry? Stroke 9? Well, that band for me is Cake. Cake of the inimitable talk-singing and drawling sarcasm. Cake of the jangling guitars and chugging beats and satirical lyrical genius. Cake of "Going The Distance" and "Stickshifts and Safetybelts." Yep. That Cake. And wouldn't you know it, that Cake played on Saturday and you can believe, people, that I grooved and sang and clapped and danced my everloving heart out during that show.
At one moment between songs, I crouched down to relieve the crushing pressure in my back from all that nostalgia, and I noticed in front of me something a bit odd. The man in front of me, with his denim-swathed legs and maroon Pumas, was taking a leak. Into a bottle. All over the ground. Two feet away from me.
This fella, we'll call him Peeter, filled the bottle completely, watered the ground entirely, capped up his joy juice and left the tasty bev on the ground before turning his back on THE GREATEST BAND OF THE LATE 90'S TO EVER COVER BLACK SABBATH OMG OMG OMG and walked calmly away.
Oh, not so fast, Peeter. You've been caught.
Now, the video is a bit more difficult to see. In my frenzied disbelief of Peeter's concert faux pas, I accidentally taped it sideways. But if you squint, with your head cocked to one baffled side as mine was, you can see the steady stream of Peeter's Honest Ade watering the grounds of Golden Gate Park.
After excitement like that, I and my comrades were too tuckered out to battle the thousands to see Tom Petty warble, so we decided to cap the night at Chevy's with a pitcher of margarita and some chips and salsa. But like many events taking place this weekend, the stars aligned for a near perfect walk home; Petty front-loaded his set and played his three best ("I Won't Back Down," "Free Falling," and "Last Dance With Mary Jane") tunes while we strolled through the back roads of Golden Gate Park in the fading light, in love with Summer and in love with life and in love with each other.
Heineken: Breakfast of Champions
Bands seen: Steel Pulse, Manu Chao, Radiohead
Bands (regretfully) missed: Beck, Black Mountain, Cold War Kids
Well, folks. Yr Gurl is back from San Francisco and I think I'm still picking bits of grass out of my hair. The inaugural Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival thundered through Golden Gate Park this past weekend, and if it could have been better, I'm fairly certain I'd have died from heart failure. In all, ten of us (plus a surprise Sunday guest) mustered the energy, the courage, and the monetary funds to bust up to the Bay Area for three glorious days. And I have to say, all the pre-planning certainly paid off, because despite a few minor glitches (to be detailed in later posts), the entire shebang went off nearly without a hitch.
First glimpse of the grounds
On Friday we drove up from Santa Maria and, after a train ride and a trip on the Muni #5, we made a beeline across the polo field to the Land's End stage to stake our claim for Radiohead. The festival grounds were grassy and expansive, with narrow chutes leading to more meadows, more stages, and always more Heineken (the omnipresent alcoholic beverage sponsor of the weekend). Oddly, the crowd was a gleeful mishmash of aging hipsters, Portland hippies, and Middle Earth ex-pats. The ball-busting trou of typical Summer fest patrons were conspicuously absent, or at least partially sheathed in striped hoodies. When honest-to-goodness ironic mustaches or lensless grandma frames were spotted, they were mostly ignored. (If not treated with utter derision, but maybe that's just me. Yep. That's just me). After all, the vibe wasn't one of sartorial superiority but rather of ganja, love, and recycling. Usually in that order.
Clint and Ben express their excitement for Steel Pulse
Mike contemplates life
The lineup itself reflected the odd amalgamation of mid-30's Gen X nostalgia and exuberant up-and-comers: late-90's guitar crunchers Cake vs. Franc-Anglo-slang boy Bon Iver; Brodeo favorites Primus vs. Long Beach art stars the Cold War Kids. Performance fleece vs. Flex fleece. Hash vs. Parliaments, and so on.
Flanked by a drooping perimeter of cypress trees, Radiohead took the stage in front of an industrial fluorescent curtain just after the failing sun was all but snuffed out by a blanket of fog. The hyperactive proclamations of the previous act, Manu Chao, had whipped the crowd into a fist-pumping frenzy and despite the manic expectations for Yorke & co.'s typical squalling syncopation, the boys were surprisingly subdued. That's not to say that Yorke didn't twitch frenetically or that they didn't completely annihilate the crowd with a blistering rendition of "National Anthem." Oh, they did. Rather, the subtle nuances of slower tunes like "Karma Police," crowd-favorite "Talk Show Host," and "Videotape" took on a eery, elegiac quality. If the crush of bodies near the front of the stage didn't kill ya, the mournful "Exit Music (For a Film)" certainly would.
The first few chords of "Talk Show Host"
Oh, Thom. Oh, heart.
The best part of the night, however, was when we wandered in a daze back out into the San Francisco evening and realized, hey, hey guys? Yeah, this is just the beginning.
"We walked over to the ENORMOUS display, I'm talking racks and racks, almost an acre of wart-inducing gnome shoes, and she heads straight for the green ones, and I'm all, no way, no how, this right here is called compromise, or in some circles they call it laying down the law."- Dooce.com on buying her daughter pink Crocs
"But I have learned many, many things thanks to my many, many, many, many years of reading women's magazines: (a) apparently, if you fail to exfoliate before you apply fake tanner the results will be so terrible that you will probably need to take your own life, [and] (b) there are a surprising amount of hidden calories in nearly everything you've ever eaten."- Go Fug Yourself
One small step for mankind, one giant leap...into the arms of the conglomerate. And I just got depressed.
Willamette Week ran an article today about the depressing reality that this year's Olympics are being treated as little more than a testing ground for who will make it in the toughest games of all: Hollywood. Daniel Carlson laments, "[Michael] Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Beijing, giving him a record 14 for his career, but people are acting like this is only a springboard for real fame." He goes on to point out what anyone with access to the Internet already knows:
Even China has taken a cue from the bloated, brand-name nature of the Games and gone to a lot of trouble to produce a product that sacrifices things like reality for the sake of a good show. Some of the fireworks during opening ceremony were fakes, computer-generated explosions for the benefit of home viewers. In the same ceremony, a young Chinese girl sang the national anthem, but officials later revealed the actual vocalist was a young girl who, having slightly crooked teeth, was replaced with a more cosmetically streamlined model.
The article is cynical but good. So check it out if you feel like marinating in some good ol' Generation X-style angst for a couple of hours.