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- Posted on Sep 22nd 2010 10:00AM by Kenneth Partridge
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"This will be my first time playing guitar in New York City," he told the capacity crowd, introducing 'Kansai,' from the Syracuse sextet's recently released sophomore album, 'The Orchard.' "Now that I said that, I'm going to be a lot more nervous."
In fact, Miles, who generally sticks to singing and playing keyboards, proved rather handy with the Telecaster. 'Kansai,' like most Ra Ra Riot songs, is built on drums, bass and strings, and in strapping on the guitar, the frontman was required to do little more than provide garnish. His tidy, chiming riffs more than did the job, and during the bridge, he peeled off a lightning-quick lead.
On record, Ra Ra Riot's songs skew preppy and well mannered -- Vampire Weekend minus the African influences -- but live, they're funkier, freer things. Ditto for Miles, who's less straitlaced than his emotive vocals suggest. Throughout Tuesday's show, he was relaxed and disarming, and he stopped after seemingly every song to thank fans for showing up.
The rhythm section packed more of a punch, but its grooves always served the songs. Whether fussing with hi-hat-heavy Stewart Copeland-style beats or racing through the disco-punk chorus of 'Each Year,' drummer Gabriel Duquette hit the kit just hard enough -- never harder.
Bassist Mathieu Santos, meanwhile, was melodic and economical. Had it not been for violinist Rebecca Zeller and cellist Alexandra Lawn, he'd have been the night's MVP. On such old favorites as 'Oh La,' the string section's swells and quarter-note stabs were bitter and sweet, just like Miles' falsettos.
Lawn stepped out front on 'You and I Know,' the first of three encore songs, and if she started out pensive, she worked her way up to the witchy-woman sass of 'Gypsy'-era Stevie Nicks. She gets to play frontwoman about as often Miles does guitarist, and that's too bad. Ra Ra Riot may be a more versatile band than even its members realize.