A sensitive night of rock

With a perpetually overcast sky and occasional sprinkling, it was undeniably a gloomy night in Hollywood — at least it started out that way.

Photo by Esther Kang | Daily Trojan

A modest number of people lined up outside The Music Box at Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard early Wednesday evening, waiting for the doors to open. The buzz of conversations resonated throughout the small crowd.

With Ra Ra Riot — the New York-based indie band that’s just on the cusp of graduating into the spotlight — as the night’s headliner, half of the crowd seemed to have no idea what to expect. The other half seemed to know exactly: an awesome, intense live show.

It wasn’t until 9 p.m. that the first opening band, Givers, stepped onto the dimly lit stage. The crowd on the floor was scattered and uncertain, with a passive curiosity pervading the theater.

But by the time the explosive five-member newcomer band from Louisiana finished its third tune, wild adrenaline pulsated in the air. The set was short, but ridiculously sweet — and sweaty. It was also eclectic, as the band’s repertoire of instruments included a ukulele, bells, tambourines, two drum sets, guitars and synth sounds.

With its spastic energy reverberating in the bones of every person present in the room, Givers breathed life — and pop — back into the crowd.

Following this set was Villagers, an acoustic-folk group hailing from Ireland. The band’s serene, crooning tunes contrasted with the bouncing energy expended just 15 minutes before in the very same spot, but it worked. The band, whose lead vocal was undeniably reminiscent of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, had the audience singing along by the end of its set.

By the time Ra Ra Riot finally stepped onto the stage a little past 11 p.m., The Music Box was exploding at the seams. The standing room that was half-empty just two hours before was now completely filled. There was also a newfound energy in the venue — a mix of uncontainable ecstasy and sensitivity, thanks to the two opening sets.

As soon as Ra Ra Riot strummed its first chords, the night reached a whole new peak. The band, complete with Wes Miles (vocals), Mathieu Santos (bass), Milo Bonacci (guitar), Gabriel Duquette (drums), Alexandra Lawn (cello) and Rebecca Zeller (violin), produced music with energetic pacing and poignant composition.

To zero in on a few standout talents, Lawn and Zeller immediately come to mind. The female representatives of the band and the ones who rocked the hardest on stage (and so gracefully at that), were key to the band’s refined sound Wednesday evening. They redefined what it means for classical music to meet rock. From their graceful, legato solos to fast, rhythmic notes, they came across as more innovative than those face-melting guitar shredders.

The band showcased an impenetrable chemistry on stage. Members fed off each other’s grooves, moods and solos, and were so musically connected, it seemed as if they were having an other-worldly conversation that no one else was privy to. It was a masterful show, where each band member seemed focused on the bigger picture rather than on solos, as some rock bands are prone to be.

By the fourth song, the entire audience was bouncing, grooving and singing along.

One of the many highlights of this set was when Lawn stepped away from the keyboard where she was singing backup harmonies. She walked over to the center of the stage and led the band in a slow rendition of “You And I Know.”

Her voice, which had the sweetness of Vanessa Carlton and the playful sultriness of Fiona Apple, beautifully washed over the hushed crowd.

After playing several hits from the band’s previous record The Rhumb Line, including “Can You Tell” and “Dying is Fine,” the audience was completely enchanted — singing, dancing and jumping without reservation. After less than an hour, however, it was over. The band bid the audience an almost-convincing adieu and left the stage.

After chants for an encore, the five band members were back in less than a minute, rocking their hearts out to “Massachusetts.” It was a clean and simple encore, eschewing showy theatrics to focus on music. No stories, no jokes, just music. There wasn’t any need for words.

Ra Ra Riot’s music spoke louder than a funny story or clever quip could ever manage.