I’m not sure who originally imagined a tour in which Syracuse’s Ra Ra Riot opens for The Shins, but one can’t deny that it was a logical decision. Both bands are catchy without being corny, ambitious without being pretentious, and maintain a balance of glee and punching emotion. That being said, the question can still be raised as to whether or not Ra Ra Riot is the sort of band that is fit to play a large-scale venue like the Aragon Ballroom. After all, their style is often referred to as a chamber pop, not arena pop.
While the Aragon isn’t an arena, Ra Ra Riot seemed to be well equipped for such a venue. Assembled as a six-piece—including everything you would expect from a modern rock band plus an electric cellist, violinist, a couple of synths—the band was loud. However, they weren’t noisy; while this may sound like an anomaly, I mean this in the sense that they sounded tight, precise, and on-point, with the melodies floating easily through the venue instead of being buried under distortion of dissonance (something even The Shins are guilty of at times).
Of course, it’s important to note that being an opening band is a difficult situation. You’re playing for a massive crowd of people who really aren’t there to see you, and the sizable Chicago crowd must have been at least a little bit daunting. Mid-way through the set, though, it was evident that they had won any skeptical audience-members over and grown quite comfortable on stage, executing their set with confidence and poise. By the time the band rolled through their final two songs: the cinematic “Ghost Under Rocks” and the infectious “Boy,” Ra Ra Riot was playing like the kind of band that soon might be headlining venues like the Aragon Ballroom, maybe bigger ones for that matter. I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised.