Rookie indie-rock band Ra Ra Riot enjoyed triumph and tragedy in their first year together. They caught the attention of fans and critics in the U.S. and U.K. press at the 2006 CMJ Music marathon festival. In 2007, touring in support of a critically-acclaimed, six-song, self-titled EP (released in July independently via the Rebel Group), the young six-piece from Syracuse, N.Y., made an impact at this year's South By Southwest in Austin (Spin called them "one of the best young bands we've heard in a really long time"), and have landed a sweet spot as openers for Tokyo Police Club over the summer.
Sadly, the band suffered a major blow in June when original drummer John Pike, 23, went missing after a party in Providence, R.I. Pike was found dead off a beach near Fairhaven, Mass., on June 3. Authorities believe the cause of death to be drowning. The John Pike Memorial Fund is accepting donations in care of Citizens Bank at 37 Enon St., Beverly, Mass. 01915.
"Our plan is definitely to continue in any way that we can," says guitarist Milo Bonacci. "It's a sad part of our story and it's something we're dealing with in different ways. It's been our interest to keep going. John worked really hard for this and our friends and family feel like we shouldn't stop now."
Ra Ra Riot make their Charleston debut this weekend supporting local quartet The Specs alongside newly-formed local group Fifths (featuring members of Firework Show). The current version of the Ra Ra ensemble is comprised of Bonacci, lead singer/keyboardist Wesley Miles, cellist Alexandra Lawn, bassist Mathieu Santos, and violinist Rebecca Zeller — all of whom met while attending Syracuse University. Drummer Mike Ashley is sitting for the summer tour.
"I found people who were interested in forming a band," says Bonacci. "I was interested in involving different instruments. We just started playing around campus and things grew from there. I don't think any of us expected that we'd be doing this now. It's been exciting. We all feel like it's been moving along really quickly, but in a healthy sort of way."
Britain's New Music Express recently described the group as "a kick-ass band that sounded like Dexy's Midnight Runners playing R.E.M." The Dexy's comparison likely comes from the supposed novelty of having violin and cello within a rock band setting. The R.E.M. tie-in works, though — especially a young R.E.M. Pike's syncopated high-hat cymbal work and thumping kick drum/snare patterns resemble R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry's work on Chronic Town and Murmur. Bonacci's jangly/choppy guitar work isn't a far cry from Pete Buck's coolest stuff, either.
Miles' high-pitched moaning and singing sound more like Morrissey and Bono than Stipe, though. He seems to pick a note and sing around it, half-step by half-step. On "Everest," Miles practically lifts the melody and accents directly from the chorus of U2's "The Refugee" (off War).
"We are commonly compared to other bands or popular songs or whatever who have strings," Bonacci says. "I don't think that relates a whole lot. There are a lot of surface comparisons that really don't mean a whole lot. That Dexy's/R.E.M. line is funny; I've never really listened to either of those bands [laughs]. We do tend to listen to a wide variety of music. There are a lot of things influencing our music, so when something catches our interest, people might hear something familiar. Everyone works off the ideas and tries to develop their own way. The idea with the EP was to capture the energy of our live shows. We've had varying degrees of success. I don't think we're completely satisfied, which is kind of a motivating factor." — T. Ballard Lesemann
Ra Ra Riot share the stage with The Specs and Fifths at the Map Room (1650 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., 769-6336) on Fri. Aug. 3. Music starts at 10 p.m. Cover is $5. Check www.rarariot.com and www.themaproom.net for more.