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When life gives Ra Ra Riot lemons, it makes an album about apples

Ra Ra Riot will perform with The Pomegranates at 8 p.m. March 14 at Mojo’s.

By Parker Tarun | March 11, 2011

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Before he was the lead vocalist and keyboardist of baroque band Ra Ra Riot, Wesley Miles studied physics. This unassuming characteristic defies most rock norms, but when the group assembles live, it’s evident why knowledge of acceleration might be useful to a performer.

There is a mild-mannered pretense as sound technicians prop string instruments up among Telecasters and the sweater-wearing members of Ra Ra Riot ascend the stage. Cellist Alexandra Lawn's debonair dress or guitarist Milo Bonacci's bushel of hair evinces more of a recital than a rock concert.

But any illusion of propriety drops two measures into Ra Ra Riot's oceanic "Ghost Under Rocks." Rebecca Zeller's fingers sidle the neck of her violin, Miles decanting a melody, and it becomes clear something elegant, albeit kinetic, is charging up.

The band came together at Syracuse University in 2006 with undergraduate Bonacci’s hunt for fellow musicians on campus. From its genesis, Ra Ra Riot was fated to sound different, Bonnaci’s first find being violinist Zeller, not your typical indie rock recruit. After this pairing, the rest of the members soon fell into place and began compiling songs for their self-titled EP.

“We played at a bunch of house parties,” Miles said. “A lot of really quick guerilla style shows.”

Ra Ra Riot’s status as a live band oriented its debut LP, The Rhumb Line, released in 2008. With a dangerously high resting heart rate, The Rhumb Line rockets from poppy cavalcade “St. Peter’s Day Festival” to the inertia-addled chorus of “Too Too Too Fast,” letting nothing stunt its momentum.

The Rhumb Line found a large audience upon release, as did the band, who opened for acts such as Death Cab for Cutie and Tokyo Police Club, touring throughout the U.S.

Coming off the heels of its first tour, the group retreated to a friend’s farmhouse in Mennonite country. Contemplating in the property’s peach orchard and demoing tracks in its naturally lit living room gave the band direction for its second album.

“Writing upstate in New York was freeing in that way. We didn't have many restrictions,” Miles said. “The orchard was a good place to be secluded.”

The members cleverly titled their second album The Orchard. The energetic forte of The Rhumb Line is heard on nimble “Shadowcasting,” but The Orchard also captures the tranquility of its namesake on ballads such as “You and I Know.”

“If we played in a busier place, I'm sure it would've come out different,” said Miles. “The setting definitely influences the creation." 

The Orchard, released last August, was well received for its reprise of bright hues, as well as its voyage to the other side of the color wheel.

Still, the band’s signature facet, the manic live show, continues exalting fans into movement.

On whether he gets dizzy, brushing past his bandmates, intersecting his voice with their instruments on upbeat staple — “Too Dramatic,” Miles said, “If you think too much about it, it's not going to happen. You just let it flow through you.”

Ra Ra Riot will perform Monday at Mojo’s.

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