On Monday, hungry fans got just what they wanted when a new RANA gig was
announced for Tuesday night in Wetlands lounge. This performance by members Scott Metzger (guitar), Andrew Southern (bass), Matt Durant (keyboards) and Ryan Thornton (drums), was the most experimental RANA show I have heard since last year's West Fest. I imagined that they would be tinkering with their sound a little, coming off their appearance backing Chris Harford but this was a total deconstruction. It was weird in spots (as Scott noted after "10 Dudes"), but it was damn good.
The choice of "Joe" as opener answered the question of whether or not the band pays attention to what's said on their egroup list. From the start it sounded radically different. The lyrics portion seemed much slower, and then things got quite dissonant but sorta mellow somehow. Listen to The Song Remains the Same or a Zeppelin bootleg. Find the spacey, dissonant passages in "Dazed and Confused," "No Quarter" or (on the early bootlegs) "How Many More Times." That's what RANA was sounding like here. These bursts of sound then began to cohere into something, and all of the sudden a powerful stretch emerged from the rubble. And then it built up great momentum for dancing - which is when the Massachusetts die-hards walked in (yes, they gave away their Ween tickets to come see this!) And then they slammed it home like it was summer '00 all over again. I feel nostalgic, I'm getting all verklempt...
"Hey Deaner" was just as strong as the Wilkes-Barre version, with a
particularly good guitar solo from Scott. Unlike last time, when I couldn't hear what Matt was singing because he was off the mic, this time he shouted the lyrics into the mic. And I still couldn't make out what he was singing.
Except for Andrew's vocal mic not being loud enough, "These Jeans" was just about perfect. Ryan's more restrained (but still powerful) drumming style that he cultivated for the Harford show was put to very good use here, especially during the verse parts. And the stretch was magnificent, with everyone wailing, but LISTENING to each other while they wailed. Which made the wailing sound better.
After a false start, "Time Passes Slowly," dedicated to "a friend who hasn't seen us in a while," soothed like it always does. "Poop Jazz" was so thunderous that they dispensed with the closing "lyrics."
"This Machine" was very tight and again benefitted from Ryan's compact drumming. During the stretch, you could see Matt concentrating on Ryan, and adding propulsive keyboard lines to help Ryan drive the song, while Scott soloed up top. Each version of this that I hear gets a little bit better than before. Soon it will be huge.
"Pop Life" was probably inevitable after the Harford show, and it led into a "Carson Daly" that was simply nuts. I mean, the song itself is nuts, but this was particularly nuts. I don't think I have heard it louder, noisier or more energetic.
Like "Joe," "10 Dudes" was totally deconstructed. So much so that near its start Scott re-tuned his guitar for a while as the others forged on. Out of that came more of the spacey dissonance that "Joe" had, then got slightly more melodic, then got really experimental along the lines of the West Fest version, then gradually built up into '70s-style climactic bursts, then retreated, then burst again, then finished. "Weird," indeed. But probably one of the best jams I've ever seen them do, and certainly one of the most adventurous.
The smooth-flowing stylings of "Ghetto Queen" were sort of an antidote, though the song itself is kind of weird in a whole different way. Regardless, it's less than a month old and already one of the most-requested numbers. Each performance has been followed by "Faded," and so came the segue. This prompted an unbelievable display of booty-shaking, even though the proportion of the crowd was way too male-heavy for the band's liking. Perhaps frustrated by all
the testosterone during a song that demands estrogen, Scott wandered into the crowd during his solo for some salacious dancing with his friend Karen.
After faking us out with "Gotta Jibboo" (Phish cover band Bathtub Gin was upstairs), the band decided to close the already tremendously long set with their own epic, "Smile." A neat beginning (with a "Why Can't We Be Friends" tease) got Mr. Durant carried away, and he bounced off his seat and onto the power switch for his side of the stage, cutting off himself and Scott. Totally unfazed, Ryan and Andrew kept going with the bass-and-drums thing until the problem was diagnosed and their power restored. All "Smiles" are in some way landmarks, but this one was especially so, as it combined the flexible grooving they have displayed throughout February and March with the hard rock wall of sound that was such a familiar presence last fall. Loud and danceable, what more could you ask for? After one hour and 40 minutes, the set ended, and the wall I was leaning against stopped rattling.
They came out for the second set with a familiar riff to anyone who has ever seen an Amfibian or Chris Harford show. The power chording of "If I Can't Turn to You" is right up RANA's alley, and I was waiting in anticipation to see who would take the lead vocal. Surprise - there wasn't one. Matt played the vocal line on his synthesizer. Talk about reinvention.
"Found A Job" got the crowd (and Mr. Durant) hopping and "Out By Tracks" sent them to nirvana. Early on all four of them morphed the stretch into Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" before forging a different twisted path - just as loud as the bursts in "Joe" and "10 Dudes" if a little bit more coherently structured.
Out of the darkness came the light of "Ray Charles Player Piano." This was, hands down, the best version I have heard, and I've heard a lot of great ones. It really did become a bona fide stretch, as other versions threatened to do but never quite did. Such passionate wailing.
Since this night had very much taken its place in the "quirky and danceable" category, it was time for the ultimate quirky and danceable song, "900 Numbers." Matt had a whole different cadence for the lyrics that served the song quite well, bouncing along just like the funky beat. Then, like "Smile," the momentous March '01 grooving-crossed-with-September '00 rocking was blissful sensory overload. "Do I Have to Ask" was more of the same. My cup runneth over.
It was time to slow things down, and it was time for the only song in RANA's repertoire that sounds better when Scott's been hitting the Flaco, "New Partner." Its emotional liftoff carried over to the set-closer, "Palace By the Sea." At 50 minutes, this set displayed first-set length but second-set intensity. Then I had to leave to catch the train but I trust "Backstage Pass" was nasty. It had better have been.
So, was this the sign of a new direction for RANA? Or was it, like West Fest, what statisticans call an "outlier," something that is so different from the rest of its kin that it cannot fit into a pattern or be meaningfully compared? Who knows. But it was a total mindfuck and that is all that matters. Speaking of which, was anyone else surprised that "Your Brain" was missing?RANA is opening for The Big Wu on April 12th at Wetlands. Come join the growing numbers of music lovers chasing after them!
JamBase NYC Correspondent
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