Review and Photos: RAQ @ Gramercy Theater

This past weekend RAQ fans made it past the cutesy “RAQ is BAQ” campaign and to the band’s music itself. The quartet formed in Burlington, Vermont back in 2000 and toured regularly through the summer of 2008. After that, RAQ gigs have been few and far between with keyboardist Todd Stoops moving on to help form funk-fusion act Kung Fu and guitarist Chris Michetti turning an unexpected call to help out the Disco Biscuits into a primary role in Conspirator. Despite Michetti and Stoops’ success in Conspirator and Kung Fu, the material and bond they forged and developed over those eight years, as well as the fanbase they developed, couldn’t be denied leading to the return of RAQ.

[All Photos by Andrew Blackstein]

When RAQ played their first gig of the year at February’s AURA Music Festival one major component of the band had changed. Drummer Greg Stukey sat out the reunion and was replaced by Kung Fu / Breakfast drummer Adrian Tramontano. Upon listening to RAQ’s set at AURA it was clear Tramontano’s relentless “animal-style” drumming fit the band’s music perfectly. As the quartet set out to play a trio of Northeast shows this past weekend, they had Tramontano along for the ride. The three-show run opened in Boston on Thursday night before the band descended upon The Big Apple for a gig with FiKus at the Gramercy Theater on Friday night.

With three studio albums to their name, dozens of unreleased originals and a bevy of covers in the repertoire, RAQ treated fans to 34 different songs over the course of the three-show run, with 11 of those tunes delivered at the Gramercy after a forgettable set of generic jamtronica by FiKus. Breathers were few and far between during RAQ’s powerhouse two-hour performance in New York City as they filled the show with one vibrant jam after another connecting their catchy originals and a cover of ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses.

RAQ defined their performance early in the set by stringing together the opening three-song segment of Bob’s Your Uncle -> Cheap Sunglasses -> Botz with two impressive, patiently-executed segues. It was hard to believe the quartet had only played one show together with this lineup, let alone that Stoops, Michetti and bassist Jay Burwick hadn’t performed together regularly in nearly five years. Chris, Todd and Jay have an undeniable chemistry which came through from the get go and was only accentuated by Tramontano’s whirl-of-motion theatrical drumming.

Once the quartet started jamming the Phish influence was undeniable. That was always the knock on RAQ – they sound too much like Phish. As if that’s such a bad thing? Yes, Michetti’s tone is reminiscent of another guitarist from Vermont, but over the last three years we’ve seen Chris show off such a different side of his playing with the more electronica-oriented Conspirator that proves he’s far from a Trey imitator. Also, you can’t compare the styles of Stoops and Page McConnell as they bring such different elements to the table. Todd is one of the more aggressive keyboardists in the scene and surely has the quickest hands. That said, many of RAQ’s jams on this night had retro-jam written all over them.

RAQ’s originals are steeped in classic rock and many are incredibly catchy. Walking In Circles in particular is an impeccably crafted tune that’s part ZZ Top, part early Aerosmith, part God Street Wine and all RAQ. If the band put out their 2006 album Ton These in 1976, it’s not hard to imagine Walking In Circles would’ve been a hit. The version the quartet dropped at the Gramercy found the band quickly moving beyond the song’s chord structure and into a buttery jam space. Tromontano propelled the tempo into overdrive while Stoops, Michetti and Burwick went to work. Each musician pushed and prodded the jam making for true group improvisation.  After nearly ten minutes of top-notch jamming, and without saying a word or even looking at each other, RAQ transitioned the tasty jam into another of their originals – Reason. This segment was an example of why RAQ deserves a better fate than simply disappearing into the sunset after the reunion run finale down south next month.


Set: Bob’s Your Uncle -> Cheap Sunglasses -> Botz > City Funk, Walking In Circles > Reason > Clamslide > Reason, Quick And Painless > Silhouette > Quick And Painless, Brother From Another Mother

Encore: Carbohydrates Are The Enemy

RAQ & FiKus Photos…

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