Ra Ra Riot has come a long way since I first saw them perform in 2007 at moe.down festival near their home in upstate New York. During their recent show at Metro in Chicago earlier this month, I had the chance to see how they’ve grown, get glimpse of their future and wonder what emotions fans feel during their performance.
Editorial Note: part of this article was first published as Concert Review: Ra Ra Riot at Metro in Chicago on Blogcritics.
The atmosphere in the Metro was primed just right. It was a perfect environment for exploring an aspect of human emotion that often gets overlooked during a concert, even though it is fully felt.
As I’ve shared with you before, these last few months live music has been a key element of coping as I mourn the loss of my Dad in August.
That being said, to set the stage for this Ra Ra Riot concert experiment, I’ll first tell you that a few days after my Dad’s passing came the release of Ra Ra Riot sophomore album The Orchard.
And ever since the end of August, the album has been burrowing deeper into and having its way with my heart and mind.
Needless to say, the experience I’ve had between the headphones created a large amount of excitement and expectation for the October 5th show.
How Do You Actively Listen To An Album To Prepare for A Concert?
I’m not quite sure if there’s a formal process, but over the last few months I had been “actively listening actively” to the Orchard, to see how the album has resonated with me during my grieving process.
And to work through my grieving process these last few months, I’ve also been reading several books, one of which is The Grief Recovery Handbook. It’s a great book that takes you though a thought process so you can properly let yourself grieve when you’ve lost someone close to you or you’ve experienced any other type of loss in your life.
So What’s The Connection To The Ra Ra Riot Concert?
Well, if you’re new to Ra Ra Riot’s music, here’s a brief explanation of how the new album has resonated with me, and why actively listening to it set the stage for a palpable performance during which I experienced joy, grief and community during the show.
Then I’ll tell you what happened during the show and how the my fellow fans have helped me move this grief experiment forward.
What Is the Emotional Impact Of The Orchard?
Track to track, The Orchard is a sweeping and lush sonic portrait you can get lost in. More specific, it deftly captures the emotions we feel when someone, or something that we’ve grown close to suddenly dies.
And in some ways, The Orchard listens like a comforting letter written for those who are left behind to struggle with the pain, sorrow and sadness caused by the loss of a love one.
And it gets more gorgeous each time I listen to it.
But I wondered if the album experience would translate to the live show.
The confident combination of speed, intensity and emotional depth is paramount with Ra Ra Riot. And the way they deliver each chord, beat and lyric is what makes them such an exciting band to listen to, live and on record.
And when the combination is firing on all cylinders and in sync, the band can unlock and summon thoughts and feelings of love, pain, loss and grief that are otherwise buried deep in your heart and mind.
The effect your heart as it happens is simultaneously comforting and awkward, especially when it happens at a concert with hundreds of other strangers, and fellow fans around you feeling the same thing but saying nothing about out loud.
The only confirmation that you are feeling the same thing is the roar of voices and the sweet symphony of clapping and applause.
For the most part, the sextet delivered live what The Orchard promises between your headphones. Only when they let the anxiety of performing live get the best of them, did the show feel rushed or hurried.
And when they did find the right pace and tempo, fans bobbed their heads, blissfully closed their eyes and got lost in the gorgeous grooves orchestral melodies flowing all around us.
During those moments everything felt right and the Metro buzzed with pure rhythmic electricity. You could feel that surge of unseen emotion releasing like euphoric vapors from fans hearts and minds.
Halfway through, under intimately dimmed stage lights, cellist/vocalist Alexandra Lawn sensually crooned the love letter lyrics to “You and I Know,” while the synth, guitar, bass and strings weaved together like a tightly knit fabric of mystery and melodic pleasure. As Miles, pointed out to the crowd earlier, it was the first time that Lawn has taken lead vocals on Ra Ra Riot song.
And I hope to hear more from Lawn, because the moment elevated the group’s live show and sound making both more dynamic and versatile.
Going back to one of their best songs from their 2007 debut The Rhumb Line, they wrapped up with the chillingly epic and beautifully eerie ballad “Ghost Under Rocks.” They returned for two encore songs that were both equally joyous and stunning, but for me, the story of this Windy City show climaxed and triumphantly expired the minute they played the final sublime and hauntingly holy note of “Ghost.”
Do The Feelings Make Sense?
During the show, on the way home and ever since that night at Metro, I’ve continued to think about what I felt and why.
For starters, I keep thinking about the emotional contradictions that exist within the live music experience.
I thought how as live music fans we often see the live concert experience as a means to escape from our lives.
Now, of course, wanting to escape makes perfect sense because most of us want to run from the emotions and memories that make us feel sad or cause us to feel emotional pain and sorrow. Why would we want to feel like that at concert? It’s supposed to be fun, right?
But we do feel those difficult emotions. And because of that, it’s a bit confusing. And sort of ironic in a way.
I say that because we go to the shows to feel the opposite of pain, sorrow and grief and sadness, right? We go to concerts to feel happy, excited, joyful and euphoric. The good stuff.
For the most part this is true.
But it’s not that simple.
The human mind is complex.
And during the course of life, heck even during one day, we can feel a wide range of emotions and not even be aware of it.
And the same goes for concerts, especially this Ra Ra Riot show.
As Ra Ra Riot played songs from both of their albums, the whole musical experience, and the emotional vibe that the crowd was projecting, conjured emotions from all parts of the emotional spectrum.
And for me the two most prominent emotions were grief and sadness. And I felt them with a peculiar sense of cathartic pleasure.
Isn’t That Odd?
I think it’s odd because when I think about my own experiences and the conversations that I’ve had with fans, most of us agree that a concert venue is not a place where we hope, or expect, to feel the hard emotions like grief or sadness.
For most of us, we hope to avoid those emotions when we go to a concert. I know I was fighting my grief as I got swept up in the joy of the moment while I filmed this video. And it was good that I felt joy, but I was challenging myself to have a balance.
Like this Ra Ra Riot concert — and seeing Jakob Dylan and The Arcade Fire earlier this year — my last few concert experiences have shown that, if what you’re dealing with in life currently involves struggling witt the death of a loved one or some other type of loss, then you are more likely to feel or experience grief at a concert.
While that makes sense, I challenge you to truly ask yourself if you think that most concert fans actually let themselves feel the grief, or do they just let the good feelings bubble up during a concert while they stuff the more difficult ones down.
And do you think stuffing those feelings down during the concert helps you to heal and find closure and move on emotionally?
Sure, we all have choices.
And you could certainly choose to overindulge yourself with drugs or booze before and during the show so that you are comfortably numb and don’t feel anything but the sonic part of the show and not the unseen emotional side of the show.
But as I’ve talked with concert fans and my friends about this subconscious and conscious grieving that goes on at concerts, I’ve realized that we as concert fans do consider the live music experience as a place to mourn and find healing and peace, even though we may not realize, or want to admit it.
To Wrap Up This Post, I’ll Tell You This
I’ll always remember the faces in the crowd that you can see in the video below.
The Ra Ra Riot show was nothing short of complex.
There were emotional moments of beauty, pain, celebration and unspoken mourning flowing from the crowd.
And ever since that show I’ve watched this video below many times thinking about all the faces of the fans and what everyone was feeling while they smiled, shouted or stood and let the music move them on the inside.
Watching this video, I also wondered what grief experiences you felt while you stood around me listening to the music?
Did you think about your friends who have died?
Did you think about relationships that have ended?
Did you think about pure moments of joy and pleasure?
I’ll Stop Us Right Here For Now
Yes, grief and mourning are both heavy and important topics for concert fans. And we’ll continue to explore and experiment with them in various ways.
Coming up on a future post we’ll speak with Kara, an organization who provided grief counseling to those fans who witnessed the tragic situation that occurred at a Swell Season concert where a fan committed suicide during the show.
But right now, we’d like to hear from you.
If you were at the Ra Ra Riot show in Chicago, I hope you enjoyed their show as much as we did.
We’d love to hear about your experience, and what you think of the thoughts we explored in this post.
What bands and live shows have helped you cope with loss and grief?
Thank you for reading along and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.
All photos by Colleen Catania