' Cinema Romantico: My Heart Hurts

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Heart Hurts

When I saw Ra Ra Riot at the Metro back in November I was explaining to my friends John and Kristin in my typically calm, understated way that we were about to see "the best live band on the planet." "The planet?" Kristin repeated, egging me on to scale more dramatic heights. "The planet!!!" I declared to such a degree I could see the girl standing directly behind John and Kristin get a look in her eyes dismissing me as a hyperbolic idiot. Not that I minded since, hey, I am a hyperbolic idiot. Need I remind you of my motto? Life Is Short - Be Hyperbolic. And anyway, Ra Ra Riot is the best live band on the planet, which you know full well if you've seen them. To express the sensation via word is a worthless enterprise, but to be there is to feel a joy so palpable it leaves you with one of those glorious shit-eating grins that spreads so wide your face actually hurts a little bit. Their energy is boundless and the way they effortlessly and passionately interact and bound about together on stage resembles an indie family, born in Syracuse, New York but raised on the buses in which they criss-crossed this  country to come of age night after night after night in dimly lit concert halls in random cities.



That night we saw them in November they were fresh off having to postpone several concerts on account of lead singer Wes Miles losing his voice. There was, in fact, a worry the Chicago show would be cancelled, too. All thanks to God that it wasn't and when they stormed the stage they did so in the manner of a group of pals (which they are) that love playing together (which they do) that had not been able to play together for several days (which they hadn't) and were now finally being let free. My friend Dave and fellow Ra Ra Riot devotee who has seen them with me more times than anyone looked at me a few songs in and exclaimed, "Man, they are on tonight." Truer words had never been spoken.

My favorite Ra Ra Riot show, though, was unquestionably at Schubas in September 2009 which I idiotically (read: correctly and triumphantly) attended in spite of my seriously inclement health. That was the same show where as Dave and I and our friends John & Cindy and Matt & Trish were watching the opening band we came to the realization that Ra Ra Riot's comely cellist, backup (and occasional lead) singer and all-around effervescent stage presence Alexandra Lawn was standing about five feet away from us. It's important to note that Dave has a crush on Ms. Lawn the way I have a crush on Malin Akerman and so we all stood there urging Dave to take his 'move.' Alas, this 'move' (the specifics of which were never decided) never took place.

I take a lot of pride in having at least assisted in converting a number of my friends to this band I adore so much, but my friend Dave has truly become my primo RRR accomplice. We saw them at Wicker Park Fest when no one else seemed to have any idea who they were and we saw them a year later at noon in 100 degree temperatures at Lollapalooza. We even seriously discussed catching a train to go to Milwaukee to see them once. So naturally the first person I contacted in the wake of the mind-numbing news yesterday that Ms. Lawn had decided to leave the band was Dave.

Arrivederci, Alexandra.
Members of bands leave all the time. That's the nature of the biz. Wilco's lineup is essentially a revolving door. Back in the day The Rolling Stones went through guitarists like Obama goes through Chiefs of Staff. Pearl Jam's drumming situation was no different than Spinal Tap's. Even Ra Ra Riot has been forced to utilize numerous drummers. I've seen them in action with four different dudes providing a backbeat. But upon seeing them in concert you realize all the action is at the forefront between Milo (guitar), Mat (bass), Allie (cello), Becca (violin) and Wes (mic). Now skilled musicians can utilize their talent to spackle over their newness and/or unfamiliarity with a band in order to still make a set sound really, really good. What you can't fake, however, is camaraderie and joy and those are the two things in which Ra Ra Riot runs rampant and that's what sets them apart from absolutely anyone else in concert. During this last show at the Metro there was a remarkable moment between songs when you could see Becca and Milo exchange words and then break into wide smiles and gigantic laughter. The band got its start playing in basements and such around their Syracuse campus and this moment, frankly, aside from the swirling, sweating crowd didn't look much different. They could have been in an empty basement just playing for themselves. It was an unforced but forceful intimacy and it wasn't something you could just invent by plugging any old soul in there - no, it had to be earned.

Maybe Alexandra Lawn leaving the band won't change anything, but my head and my heart both tell me can't possibly be true. There was something in the way she played and something in the way she moved and something in the way she and the other four all existed together. You might say I'm crazy, though that's probably because you never saw them live. And now it appears you never will. Dammit, why didn't Dave and I go see them in Milwaukee?

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