. : : August 30th, 2010 : : .
I was hoping to do double duty and tape both Ra Ra Riot‘s MTV Canada taping (which may be redundant, but whatever) and their Contest Winners Only show at the Mod Club.
I got an e-mail from MTV the night before the event going over details (location, set length, etc), and it notified that all bags must be checked. I started to strategize other ways to sneak my rather bulky R-09hr recorder into the Masonic Temple right up to the moment I got in line outside the venue. The girls in front of me — who must be almost half my really,-I’m-not-that-old age — were talking, and one of the young ladies, obviously a veteran of MTV tapings, was telling her comrades about the metal detector and pat down process for getting into this place. Gosh! It’s a TV taping, not Fort Knox!
But seeing as the show was to be taped regardless, I conceded and packed the recorder back into my man-purse (“European carry all!”) and checked it at the doors. Looking down at my check-ticket, I prayed for the bag’s safe return; with mics, SD cards and recorder, the bag contained over $1,000 in recording equipment I’d rather not have to replace.
Finally, it was time to see Ra Ra Riot, who were kind enough to stay over in Toronto for an extra couple of days after opening the evening for the double bill of City and Colour and Tegan and Sara at the Molson Amphitheatre the previous Saturday night. After roughly fifteen minutes of waiting in an increasingly stuffy and sweat-inducing lobby, they finally started plodding us into the Temple. I was one of maybe 40 people seeded up front while the remaining audience were herded to the upper level balcony, quite away from the action. I ended up being seated second row, so I’m sure anyone watching MTV will be subjected to my ugly mug. The show started off with a talk show-esque segment that allowed the VJs (are they still called that?) to smile and mug for the camera. The audience of mostly young teens ate up every juvenile joke, every skit, and every unabashed posturing smile. It was cute for what it was, but didn’t have me jumping on the phone with my satellite provider to order the channel.
After the VJs segment ended, Ra Ra Riot took the stage and played three songs. The audio mix was clearly more intended for the audience in TV land than it was for the audience, but that didn’t seem to bother most; I learned most of them had never heard of RRR, and were here instead to catch a glimpse of their favourite VJs and, just maybe, get seen on TV. But they played the parts well, cheering where they needed to cheer, and clapping between songs politely. But while the songs were on, the chatting and text messaging began; I think I was the only one in the room rocking a bit of dancing (if you call my irrythmatic convulsing “dancing”). Oh well.
After the short and sweet set, I dashed through the crowd to quickly grab my murse and find a quick dinner. A couple of delicious slices of gourmet spinach and tomato pizza was just what the doctor ordered, and provided the much-needed energy rush to get back on the subway and make my way to the other end of the downtown core.
I’ve only been to the Mod Club twice, and neither experience was fondly memorable. When the venue first opened, I saw Matthew Good perform a set previewing songs from his then forth-coming album White Light Rock N’ Roll review. I was in the second row, and the PA layout is a stack on either side of the stage, pointed oddly outwards. Thus, all the sound I heard that night was direct from the amps. Not a great mix. My second trip out there, my name was mistakenly left off the guest list, and I was pretty much told to go wait outside in sub zero temperatures for an hour until the venue had time to figure it out. I guess me standing quietly in an unused corner of the large entrance hallway was inconvenient to the oh-so-hard working ticket taker. After the snafu was thankfully corrected by What Made Milwaukee Famous‘ kind drummer, I made my way inside. I learned my lesson from the previous time and stood about half-way back, on an elevated platform on the right hand side. I wish I could say the experience was better, but the sound was absolutely atrocious. I stayed for WMMF, but left before headliners Louis XIV even had a chance to step out of their dressing rooms for their headlining set.
Thus, I was not expecting much from the sound for Ra Ra Riot, but a free show is a free show. I positioned myself within arms distance of the right hand speaker stacks, hoping this compromise will result in a more enjoyable experience. It turned out to be a gamble that paid off in spades — the Mod Club has never sounded better. The vocals were clear, the bass crisp and the drums had that perfect snap. It was actually a great way for a first taste of Ra Ra Riot’s live performances. The incredible musicianship is even more incredible live — the preciseness is almost jaw dropping, and the band plays with remarkable energy and enthusiasm.
The band is short on talk (only breaking up the music to say the occasional thanks until the final third of the set) but long on tunes. For a free set, I went in expecting a truncated 30 minute set of maybe 6 or 8 songs, but was pleasantly surprised when the band played for almost a full hour, and seemed to hit all the right buttons. The crowd danced and clapped and sang along enthusiastically throughout, and the band kept up admirably. Even the unmic’ed members could be seen singing along with a smile on their face, totally in their element and clearly happy to be back on the road performing.
I also went into the show without having listened to their latest album, The Orchard. I decided to leave it to chance — if my copy came in the mail before the show, I would give it a listen. If not, I would avoid downloads, streams, etc. and allow myself to be surprised. And I was impressed with how well the new tunes fit in with the old. No sign of a sophomore slump here, and I’m excited to give the disc a spin and see how the recorded renditions of these gems turned out.
The most bizarre incident of the night occurred quite suddenly during the second and third songs upon finding myself surrounded on all sides by a swarm of no less than half a dozen photographers (including Chromewaves.net‘s fantastic photographer/blogger, Frank Yang) jockeying for position around my statue-still self. I tried my best to afford them some space, and they perhaps unknowingly accommodated me in return by silently thanking me with a wordless smile, avoiding pushing or shoving their way into position. Its a testament to how accessible the digital revolution is becoming, and how dearly people want to capture these precious memories — which is a cool feeling to be a part of (although in the audio portion of preservation, rather than the visual sort).
The recording itself turned out pretty well. There was a lot of music coming from the sextuplet group on stage, and each instrument struggles a bit to come to the forefront on the recording. Interesting, they sometimes seem to trade places — vocals may take backseat to drums and bass for a verse, only to be challenged by the violin and cello the next. The mix seems to get a bit better further into the set, and although it never comes quite up to the lofty standards set by some of my recordings (generally those at the Drake Underground), it’s definitely quite listenable.
02. St. Peter’s Day Festival
04. Each Year
05. Oh, La
07. Can You Tell
10. Ghost Under Rocks
11. Too Dramatic
12. Too, Too, Too Fast
13. Dying Is Fine
15. Run My Mouth
Thanks to Ra Ra Riot for a great performance, the Mod Club and Arts & Crafts for putting the show on, and Barsuk Records. Also props to the cast and crew of MTV Live and the Masonic Temple for the earlier MTV Live taping.