Sometimes you build things up in your head for a long time and they totally disappoint you. And sometimes they still totally blow you away.
Halley went to see Ra Ra Riot three years ago and came away gushing on and on about how amazing they were and how badass the female stand up cello player was. I finally got to see them Friday night at the Aragon Theater in Chicago, and I was totally blown away despite my high expectations.
First a few words about the venue though, because that definitely set the tone for the night. The Aragon is beautiful. Pure and simple. This was my first time there and I didn’t quite know what to expect given that usually when people talk about the Aragon they talk about how dilapidated it is. Maybe it’s been renovated since then, but I was open mouthed when I walked up the beautiful sweeping staircase and into the cavernous second floor. You walk into this ginormous echoing vast space and look up and see a huge black and gold ceiling painted to look like the night sky with patterned lights blinking to look like stars. Not only that but there are sightlines for days. Ten out of ten for the Aragon.
And then Ra Ra Riot got on the stage and my night became even better. Hal’s right, the stand up cello player is a highlight, with her minimalist cello that’s just a metal frame with strings, but really the whole band as an entity is just incredible. While I’d always thought of Ra Ra Riot’s sound as fun and catchy as all get out, I’d never really thought of it as impressive, but when you get hit full surround sound with the band’s sweeping instrumentalist sound with the cello and the violin included, and on top of that you have Wes Miles strutting his stuff and blasting away in his falsetto, it’s almost overwhelming in the best of ways. The band made its way through “Foreign Lovers,” (getting a shout out from the crowd at the Chicago line of course) “Beta Love,” “Bouncy Castles,” and “Absolutely” from their fantastic 2016 album Need Your Light, as well as some hits off their 2013 album including title track “Beta Love.” During a clear crowd favorite “Water” (which is a collaboration between Ra Ra Riot and Rostam Batmanglij formerly of Vampire Weekend) a couple of members of Young the Giant came bounding onto the stage (one of whom was wearing a ginormous cat mask) and helped out with the track. Even with high expectations, the group still managed to blow me away.
Next up was Young the Giant. My expectations for the headliner were lower. Although my friends look at me like I’m crazy whenever I say I’ve never loved the band recorded, I was blown away for totally different reasons than with Ra Ra Riot. I wasn’t expecting lead singer Sameer Gadhia to put on such an amazing, high energy show, but the man came strutting out in a head to toe bright red jumpsuit (either that or it was a long sleeve shirt and pants that matched perfectly, but I’m just going to pretend it was a jumpsuit. Or is it a romper? Or do only women wear rompers?) and immediately kicked into high gear with tracks from the new album Home of the Strange including “Titus was Born” and “Something to Believe in” and some older crowd favorites, including “Cough Syrup,” which elicited a huge roar of approval from the concert-goers. Seeing his pure flair and verve when he’s onstage brings out the joy and emotion infused in the tracks much more for me than just listening to the band on Spotify.
Given the immense sound of both bands I can’t think of a better place to see them in the cavernous, grandiose atmosphere of Aragon.