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Fun with Ra Ra Riot, Givers and Pepper Rabbit at Harlow’s

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Saturday’s animated concert at Harlow’s served as one of many sold-out shows in California for Ra Ra Riot, Givers and Pepper Rabbit. The dark, intimate venue came alive with colorful lights and a clambering crowd of orchestral pop rock fans. At the first beat of sound, the room was flavored with music that could most simply be described as “fun.”

Joining Givers and Ra Ra Riot for the first time on this tour, Los Angeles-based rock duo Pepper Rabbit opened the show with layered organ notes, looping effects and experimental use of unusual rock instruments: clarinet, bells and ukulele. Center stage, the lights glowed atop drummer Luc Laurent’s curls as his percussion pounded in our chests. Vocalist Xander Singh switched seamlessly from scaling keys to tambourine to ukulele throughout the band’s set, which included “Older Brother,” “Babette!” and “None Shall Sleep,” all off of the band’s 2010 album “Beauregard.”

As the bands transitioned and the crowd thickened, members of Lafayette’s Givers also began to set up an assortment of quirky instruments. Travis Sparks, who is visiting from Austin, noticed a second ukulele on the stage. “Another goddamn ukulele. These bands need to get out more,” he said, adding that an increasing number of musicians attract a built-in audience by merely integrating unconventional instruments. Although I'm a fan of the ukulele, there’s something to be said for how sudden ubiquity can dilute the punch of a novel concept.

Nevertheless, Givers, a psychedelic rock band reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, emitted vibrant, almost hyperbolic, vibes and beats. As they broke into the hit “Up Up Up,” the room burst with celebratory thunder and dance. Hearts pounded and long hair flew on stage to the rhythm of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Christine Peirce’s TIffany Lamson's playful drumming and bell slinging.

“I want to have your baby!” a man screamed from the audience.

“Um. No. That wouldn’t be possible,” Peirce  Lamson replied, laughing.

Her sweet lyrics harmonized with guitarist Taylor Guarisco’s vocals as his eyes closed with bliss as he played.

“The show was a lot of fun,” Guarisco said. “All of our songs are kind of like our children, so we love them all. It’s always exciting to see how an audience that doesn’t know our music reacts as we play. I watch their faces as they turn….” He then mimicked the audience’s expressions: faces that transform from bored to ecstatic.

As the stage transitioned for the third time, more people crowded toward the edge of the stage to get a closer look at Syracuse’s Ra Ra Riot, which performed Saturday for the first time with new drummer Kenny Bernard.

Fan Shelee Romo of Woodland said she’s seen Ra Ra Riot about four or five times since the band’s debut.

“They’ve always put on a great show,” she said. “They just feed off each other.”

She screamed loudly as the band emerged on stage to the sound of “Massachusetts.” Singer Wesley Miles, wearing a vintage Star Wars T-shirt, pounded the keys as the band orchestrated wildly to a series of hits from their first full-length album “The Rhumb Line,” including “Too Too Fast” and “Oh, La.”

Ra Ra Riot’s second full-length album, 2010’s “The Orchard," offered a more mature, mellow mood, while still retaining its playful energy with “Boy” and “Kansai.”

"This is the first time the band has felt part of one entire process, from beginning to end," Miles said.

"The Orchard" also features more lead vocals by cellist Alexandra Lawn, whose sultry vocals captivated the audience with "You and I Know."

“I’ve never seen [Lawn] sing solo live like that, so that was exciting,” Romo said. “She has this Stevie Nicks vibe that I love.”

The songs continued with spritely vocals by Miles, harmonized by Lawn and reinforced by the band's baroque rock buoyancy. The band left the stage, and after minutes of cheering, returned with "The Rhumb Line" hits “Ghost Under Rocks” and “Dying Is Fine." During the last few verses, Miles removed his glasses and proceeded to high five several audience members before saying goodnight. 

“The show was just great!" Miles said. "We’re glad everyone had fun."

Photos by Steven Chea

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