Starting a ‘Ra Ra Riot’ at the Smith Opera House

It’s been a rough but rewarding road for the Syracuse, N.Y., band Ra Ra Riot: In the two-plus years since it formed, the group has endured a grueling tour schedule, inflated expectations from critics, and the unexpected death of drummer John Pike, one of the band’s creative leaders. But Ra Ra Riot emerged from it wiser and more focused, with a beautifully polished and inspired debut, “The Rhumb Line.” Catch the energetic indie rock group in their first Geneva appearance at 8:00 on Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca St. Doors open at 7. Opening the show is Geneva’s El Ka Bong performing its fusion of rock, jazz and world beat grooves.Ra Ra Riot got its start at Syracuse University in 2006, when a group of students decided to form a band around their shared love of danceable but unexpected and dramatic rock. Guitarist and Geneva native (and former Gym Class Hero) Milo Bonacci met violinist Rebecca Zeller in an electronic-music class, and together they pulled in cellist Alexandra Lawn, bassist Mathieu Santos and keyboardist Wesley Miles, with John Pike on drums.Ra Ra Riot found its voice quickly and launched what would become a seemingly endless tour of basement parties and clubs. Lawn and Zeller’s dueling strings provided surprisingly rich textures, which helped set the band apart from other local acts — along with Miles’ vocals, which suggest Morrissey crossed with Tom Verlaine.Sadly, the rapidly building momentum came to a sudden halt in June 2007, when Pike drowned off the coast near Fairhaven, Mass. He was 23.Ra Ra Riot spent that summer mourning and regrouping. By the end of the year, the band was back in the studio with producer Ryan Hadlock (Gossip, Blonde Redhead, Islands) to record its full-length debut. It was a cathartic process. “The Rhumb Line,” named after a nautical term for traveling in a constant direction, became a memorial to Ra Ra Riot’s late drummer. Pike is credited with writing the lyrics on a number of the tracks.”The Rhumb Line” is a joyful and life-affirming album. Sometimes playful, often intense, it’s a bittersweet testament to life’s unexpected jolts, in a world that can be at once beautiful and terrible.To observe Ra Ra Riot on stage is to observe a joyful experience in progress, somehow both intensely fun and just plain intense; it’s a joy that’s always aware that darkness and despair may be just around the corner, that life is both beautiful and terrible, and it’s a joy that is in fact amplified by this awareness. They have toured extensively in the US and abroad with artists such as Tokyo Police Club, Editors and Vampire Weekend.Tickets are $10 each. They are available at The Smith box office, by calling 315-781-LIVE (5483) or toll-free 866-355-LIVE (5483) and on-line at www.TheSmith.org. All tickets are subject to a $2 facility fee.Smith box office hours are weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The Smith accepts MasterCard, Visa and Discover.The Smith Opera House is owned and operated by the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.

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