Ra Ra Riot revs up its groove

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Ra Ra Riot is now a four piece and that configuration has infused the band's music with a refreshed snap and sass.

Fans will hear that added spark when the band plays its latest songs from the hot-off-the-presses album "Beta Love" during its current tour.

"We were pleasantly surprised at the pre-sales," said violinist Rebecca Zeller of the early sales of the album. "And it's been great to see how many people have been at the shows."

The positive early buzz says something about the sound of the band and also the members' dedication. Formed in 2006 by six friends at Syracuse University, the group has had its share of ups and down during its brief life. Drummer John Pike died in 2007 of what appeared to be a drowning accident near Fairhaven, Mass. Last year, cellist Alexandra Lawn announced her departure from the band. That sent the remaining members into more than a funk. Add to that lead singer Wesley Miles' vocal woes, which forced the cancellation of some 2012 shows, and you have the makings for a band meltdown. Lucky for fans, the members regrouped and moved straight ahead, refining their sound and growing the fan base.

Onstage
Ra Ra Riot
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: 9:30 Club, 815 V Sreet NW
Info: Sold out at press time, but tickets might be available through resellers; 9:30.com; 800-955-5566

They didn't take the easy way, either. Although the band has gotten all kinds of love from critics and indie rock fans, they really upped the ante when they worked with producer Dennis Herring (The Hives, Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello) on this album. Although the band admitted wallowing in some nostalgia blues after Lawn's departure, Herring was quick to shake them up musically almost reinventing the sound into something lighter and more playful.

Band members moved away from their primary instruments and practices -- Zeller learned how to compose string parts on computer programs -- but only under Herring's watchful eye.

The result is a big dollop of rocking fun that takes surprises without moving too far away from the band's signature style. And fans, quite frankly, love it.

"Even though we've been playing these songs for a while, in a lot of these cities the songs are brand new for the majority of people," she said. "The crowds' energy and focus have been so positive, so we've been feeding off that. It's been very exciting."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner