Back in November, Spouse told me that I had a present for my birthday, but that it wouldn’t happen until January 23. That present was to go see the band Ra Ra Riot at 9:30 Club in DC.
This week rolled around, and Spouse hadn’t bought the tickets yet. Then we looked it up online, and the show was sold out. I was dismayed — I’d been really looking forward to the concert and getting to see this band again.
When I first saw them back on December 12, 2008, I was rather blown away. Here’s what I wrote about that experience four years ago:
I had listened to these guys on their MySpace a bit before going to the show. I often end up going in blind to these things, not really knowing what to expect, but this time I knew two things:
1. Their old drummer passed away in the not-so-distant past. (2007)
2. Their sound had evolved a lot between the release of their first EP to the release of their current record, The Rhumb Line.
and, because Princeton mentioned it during their set,
3. They touch each other a lot on stage.
When they did finally get up there, one thing was immediately evident. This band has an almost palpable, tangible chemistry. They get up on stage as a cohesive unit. Yeah, they do touch each other a lot as they play. They move close to one another, make eye contact often, and primarily do everything together as they play. Another thing was a little more subtle, but something more profound. Their late drummer, john pike, may have passed on, but he is so solidly there within the circle of their band that I felt like I could almost see him onstage. It is painfully, heartbreakingly clear that they lost a limb. I’ve never met these people. I don’t know them in any way. But watching them look at each other was watching the inside glances of a family. I’ve never seen a band so tight, and I’m still very moved by it. …
Their music bears witness to the life of their friend–he was one of the co-writers of everything they did. Most of the songs on The Rhumb Line (which I bought) were co-written by him. Onstage, you can see him there. For me, knowing just those two or three simple things about this band coupled with what I saw did exactly what a live show is supposed to do.
Seeing them perform was one of the more intensely emotional musical experiences I’ve had in a long while. Their music is solid, with a breadth and scope that isn’t seen often in modern culture. Their sound is akin to names like Vampire Weekend, The Cure, and Arcade Fire. The string lines (cello and violin) are fluid and velvet beauty. It works. It’s just plain good. It’s interesting, and above everything else, it’s real. Ultimately, their music is a crystal clear reflection of what death is supposed to be–a catalyst for new life.
When I saw them for the first time in Nashville at Exit/In (a decent-sized venue), there was an okay crowd, but the place was still sparse. What drew me to them was their evident bond manifested in the way they performed together, paired with music that is steeped in feeling.
Today, as I was coming home from work, I got a text from Spouse saying that he’d managed to find two tickets to the show, and that we could go after all.
Color me thrilled, because I was.
The 9:30 Club is not a small venue. It’s not a stadium, but it holds a lot more people than Exit/In by a few hundred. And it was sold out.
They packed the place. I saw them one additional time in Nashville, when they went on tour with Death Cab for Cutie. But now they’re headlining their own tour and selling out places like the 9:30 Club. In four years, they’ve moved forward in success, and when I saw them tonight, I had a few moments where a couple tears escaped.
Not only did their music get me through a rough winter in my life four years ago, but that cohesion, that bond that shows so evidently when they play together — that’s still there. They are still just as much of a joy to watch. Their music has matured, but they still played almost all the songs from their first full-length. I can’t help but think part of that is due to the memory of the friend they lost.
Four years ago, they weren’t well-known. They’d never been on national television (that I know of), and they weren’t selling out mid-sized venues. Or okay-sized venues. But they had something magical about them, and tonight I saw several hundred people recognizing that magic.
Four years. Four years of hard work, long hours, long tours, and striving for a goal. They’ve moved forward, but their essence is exactly what I remember drawing me in back in 2008.
The tears I had during a few of their songs were pure joy. Because I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a band to succeed more. These people, in my mind, deserve absolutely every good thing that comes to them. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so happy for total strangers.
So Ra Ra Riot, here’s to another four years of running toward your dreams.
It gives me hope, even though I’m in a completely different industry. Where will I be in four years?
Where were you four years ago? Where do you want to be four years from now?