When it comes to live music, Baltimore has got a lot of venues, and Rams Head Live is one of the stranger ones. When a big name comes to town, like Joanna Newsom or Passion Pit, it’s not unusual for them to headline a show at Rams Head.
It seems that this venue’s prevalence of popular music, along with its prime location at the Inner Harbor, draws a pretty diverse crowd, and Ra Ra Riot’s show last Thursday night was no exception.
The audience was a potpourri of young and old, teenyboppers and scenesters, fans and non-fans.
New York-based band Anamanaguchi opened the show, playing a host of hyper dance music courtesy of a Nintendo Entertainment System.
The four-person group, who recently announced they will be playing at Austin’s SXSW later this month, poured out fun stuff off their album Dawn Metropolis, as well as some newer, as-of-yet unreleased (and occasionally unnamed) material.
The music was poppy and energetic, but for the most part, the crowd seemed unmoved, even when the band belted out a rousing rendition of electro-pop infused “Blackout City.”
From the outset, it seemed that most of the audience wasn’t into it, even though the band played a great set. By the last few songs, though, there were a number of people dancing, which was a real improvement. Anamanaguchi closed out to strong applause.
After a very brief set change, Ra Ra Riot took the stage, opening with “Massachusetts” off of last year’s The Orchard.
The music was low-key and soft-paced for an opening song, but it packed enough punch to get the audience going.
They segued into other hits off Orchard, like “Shadowcasting” and “Do You Remember,” as well as golden oldies from their earlier self-titled EP, like “Each Year”, and songs like “Can You Tell” off of 2008’s The Rhumb Line.
The Syracuse-spawned band did a fantastic job on stage. Lead vocalist Wes Miles sang passionately and exuberantly, crooning into the microphone like soul singers of years past.
Drummer Gabriel Duquette kept the rhythm loose and lovely, bassist Milo Bonacci kept his instrumentation tight and violinist Rebecca Zeller added a classic twist to the band’s otherwise decidedly indie-rock sound.
The onstage highlight though was cellist Alexandra Lawn, whose electric cello was pretty much the coolest instrument anyone in the audience had ever seen.
It featured an electronic center core, with only a metallic outline of a cello making out a hollowed shell. Very, very cool.
While the band got their groove on, though, the audience still seemed unmoved. Few people knew the lyrics to the songs, or seemed particularly into the music. When Ra Ra Riot played their most recent hit, “Boy,” more audience members got into it, dancing around and mouthing the chorus. For most of the music, however, many swayed sedately or checked their text messages.
It wasn’t the band’s fault at all, though Ra Ra Riot’s more languid rock sound may have lent itself to a relaxed atmosphere. There weren’t as many fans at the show as there should have been.
Regardless, when Ra Ra Riot stepped off the stage, the audience called for an encore. The band returned, belting out the two best songs of the night. First, they played “Ghost Under Rocks,” off of The Rhumb Line, a powerful, thumping ballad that finally brought the audience to life.
Then they closed with “Dying Is Fine,” from the same album, arguably their biggest hit ever, which excited the crowd and got them dancing and singing with the first real enthusiasm.
After the show, the band was gracious enough to stick around, signing autographs and chatting with fans. They put on a great show. It would have been nice if more people had paid attention.