Concert Review: Raffa & Rainer Sweetly Serenade the Bubble on March 20

Categories: Concert Review
Raffa & Rainer playing, but not at the Bubble
Raffa & Rainer
With Bridget + Luke and Sweet Bronco
The Bubble, Fort Lauderdale
Saturday, March 20, 2010

Raffa & Rainer, the sweeter-than-honey folk duo from Miami, have turned into an army with their latest effort No Mercy. The follow-up to the stripped-down, understated Stolen Coal traverses new, more intricate ground for the group, with the duo ballooning to 30 guest musicians and its material resulting in a more layered sound with horns, strings, and percussion.

A handful of those 30 supported Raffa & Rainer Saturday at their Fort Lauderdale CD Release party at the Bubble. The syrupy sax, the rich timbre of the stand-up bass, and Raffa's beguiling vocals, quirky lyrics, and ability to adapt to a range of musical styles (bluegrass, country, jazz, dark-tinged carnivalesque gypsy folk) demonstrated the band's versatility while preserving its sweet-as-pie whimsy. (Sitting on crates and having knick knacks on stage like an antique lamp for some reason translate into adorable.)

The group obviously has pop smarts. Their material is catchy without being annoying or repetitive - such a problem in the folk community. And out of the three bands that played, Raffa & Rainer were the only group that inspired the audience to dance, from numbers like the love-gaze jazz of "North Carolina Boys" to the quirky bluegrass of "A Little Bit."

Unfortunately though, the band sometimes wanders into diabetes territory lyrically. If it wasn't for Raffa's amazingly charming pipes on "A Little Bit," lyrics like "I've always been a little bit, a little bit, a little bit needy. I need someone to give my kisses to" might induce a gag reflex. But she remains so irresistible (shall we say merciless?), maybe even more so live, one wants so badly to forgive for the cutesy lyric. After all, who can begrudge an adorable band for a cutesy lyric? That's like getting angry with a puppy for crying at night because it wants to sleep with you. But there's no need to be stubborn. Raffa comes back with the fire of an angsty gen-X-er with the "I don't believe in marriage. I can blame that on my parents. I love them but they fucked me up for sure."

Another minor problem included the awkward marriage between venue and sound. The Bubble was a really great host as always, and the sound wasn't wanting. There's just something incongruous about Raffa & Rainer playing at the downtown warehouse space, or at least outside. They seem better suited for a more intimate environment. Maybe had they played in the gallery among the Bubble artwork, the ambiance and the acoustics would have been more fitting.

Outside at the Bubble seemed perfect for the indie rock emanating from the threesome Sweet Bronco. Formerly the solo project of lead singer Chris Horgan, Sweet Bronco has evolved (at least since I saw them last) from a melancholy, droning indie-pop act to, well, kinda noisy. With the threesome's new sound really gelling and Horgan's heart-on-sleeve poetics and noisy guitar solos, it was hard to pay attention to anything else.

The five-piece Bridget + Luke, which also includes Rainer, was good background noise, but not nearly as captivating as Sweet Bronco or as charming as Raffa and Rainer. The only thing keeping me awake other than Bridget's vocals, was Rainer because of his idiosyncratic stage persona.

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