The Thanksgiving holiday was certainly filling but such gatherings always seems to raise the question of why I spend so much time in the music. As much as I’ve tried to explain myself, I can’t get close because whoever would ask such a question just doesn’t feel it. One piece of logical evidence I employ, though, is the fact that I check out certain bands over and over because there’s always something new. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been with RANA for more than half a dozen gigs in the last couple of months and their opening set for Project Z at the Mercury Lounge on Thursday was yet another new page. Another new occasion for me to be the pupil of four guys who never fail to inspire me to understand more of what live music is about.
A one set opener was fitting for what RANA’s been up to lately, as far as the framework of a show goes. They’ve been doing single, long rock type sets as opposed to the two setters they used to do when headlining. As an opener, they played for about 70 or 80 minutes but even their multiple hour shows leave me wanting more.
Every time they’re about to take the stage, I wonder what facets of live play they’ll go for and the Mercury set was all about dancing on the head of precision’s pin in both the lyrics and the instrumentation. Starting with “Skin & Bone,” bassist Andrew Southern belted a clear signal that they wanted us to pay attention to their words. The way he held the “and” that falls between the other two words in the song’s title was as strong as the aroma of your favorite dinner calling you home.
“Do I Have to Ask” came next and was followed by “My One Dear Son,” a song that was established in a very personal way by keyboardist Matt Durant during their gig at the The Stone Pony in Asbury Park a few weeks ago. And then came “Ring in the Sand” which I listen to at least three or four times a day on the live discs I have. It perfectly represents the concentration of RANA's style these days in it’s intensely driving rhythm, tightly packed guitar push and synth’d allusions all within a frame work of between five and six minutes with a cogent body of lyrics over it all.
“All those things you’re thinking will get old when you get old” open “Your Brain Will Change” sagaciously. The patience that usually goes hand in hand with such wisdom characterizes the pace of the song but the band’s stretching tears through the lyric’s parchment was like doing high speed origami while riding down a mountain of flowing hot lava. For those who haven’t yet experienced RANA, the “stretch” is an integral part of what they do. It’s improv that doesn’t go on too long which always reminds me of the power of economy that a writer like Ernest Hemingway employed. Just as his novels and short stories strongly hit chords deep within me, RANA’s stretches do as well.
This set things up perfectly for a tribute to a song by one of their influences in Chris Harford's “If I Can’t Turn to You.” Much of that song repeats a nine note phrase which I found myself thinking would be the perfect theme music for anyone who wants to get pumped up for an impending feat. I’m only sorry I can’t catch their gig at John and Peter's Place on 12/27 to hear Harford possibly sing the lyrics to this song when he joins the band on stage.
“Modern Day Cowboy,” one of the RANA’s tributes to their home state of New Jersey, gave us a chance to cool off a bit but the chance to relax for extended periods isn’t what any RANA shows are about so we were soon rocket shipped out again on the Talking Head’s “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” and RANA’s own “900 Numbers.” It never ceases to amaze me how Andrew holds the bass line in this song. Like a jackhammer, it’s forceful penetration demands a firm grip which, in this case, is more intellectual and emotional. The spirit and vitality that comes through Andrew’s smile each night he’s on stage is the perfect reflection of the positive effects lines like the one in “900 Numbers” have on me.
As they played the melodically instrumental “Whenever You Can,” RANA’s cohesive nature shined. With no lyrical passages to ground them at any point, they took the time to soothe without lulling the audience at all. The regal groove of “Ghetto Queen” followed with guitarist Scott Metzger’s incisive vocals exciting the state of affairs in preparation for “I Wanna Rock,” one of those songs whose titles perfectly represent what it’s all about. It’s anthem type qualities that weren’t covered by the RAWK in the music came out perfectly in the call/callback of the title and “ROCK!” exclaimed loudly through the P.A.
I had no idea we were so close to the end of their set but, in retrospect, this was just the tee shot in the final uphill push that continued with a cover of the Gland’s “Livin’ Was Easy.” The band learned this song in two days while playing down in New Orleans around Halloween and they’ve nailed it every time I’ve heard them play it. The rise and fall of harmonies in the vocals match great rhythm work and pumped everyone up, including Scott who fell to his knees during the guitar solo near the end.
After another cover (the Waterboys’ “We Will Not be Lovers”), RANA gushed forth with “Baby’s Got a New Bike.” Matt’s vocals were the antithesis of his subdued appearance in sunglasses and hair covering everything above. That dynamic was a great example of irony which also came through in the instrumentation that led us through a significant stretch where Matt & Scott held to consistent passages that Andrew and drummer Ryan Thornton played on top of in improvised timing. As captivating as the music was, it was enthralling to see Andrew and Ryan communicate what they wanted to do with each other. Each one shared ideas and accepted the other’s, both excited, both ready to jump into the other’s suggestions and what resulted from that was seamless exertions decorating power punches of energy through the ending fade of low end lead out that actually turned into the lead in of a song I never heard them do before.
I knew I heard the lyrics before but couldn’t quite place them through the melody RANA was working out and then it all came together. It was “Falling” (I think that’s what it’s called), a song from the soundtrack of the movie “Real Genius” which is one of my favorite comedies. I talked about the music from that movie with Andrew before so it made me happy that he found a way to bring it in (yet another example of RANA’s sponge type qualities). If it’s out there, they can find a way to launch from the platform of rock n roll and grab from possibility to create something with original beauty. And that was how they ended the show as well. “It’s So Hard (Believe Me)” starts with an instrumental intro as long as your average vocals driven tune and then finishes off with one verse of lyrics. They sing, “it’s so hard to love you” but that couldn’t be further from how I feel about this band and their music.
RANA plays next at Toad's Place in New Haven on December 6th which is their last scheduled gig until they their first New Year’s run (5 NIGHTS!!!) begins on December 27th. You can find details about it elsewhere on JamBase and you can find me there for the last four of them. You can find out for yourself what RANAROCK is all about by coming on down yourself which I hope you do.
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Boom Sha La La La Boom