RAQ – En Fuego en Cinco de Mayo
RAQ came back to North by Northwest in Philadelphia on Cinco de Mayo after a terrific show in Virginia where die hard fans boarded a bus to follow them north to this Philly show. The momentum of RAQ is building, but they really seem to enjoy playing at this small almost secret venue tucked in a unique corner of the city. And after seeing them twice here, I don't blame them.
They came out smokin' with a rockin' "Welcome to the Donkey Show," with Chris Michetti's guitar in tears already, and his voice singing, "Cinco de Mayo," with the lyrics. Then, the Mexican tradition held steady when the band went into the rare "Dirty Sanchez > Verde Burro." Drummer Greg Stukey led the transformation from one song to the other as the crowd picked up on the joyous dance beat and the band gave out another big, "Cinco de Mayo," battle cry. I thought the roof was going to blow off of this small club when the intergalactic sounding jam led by keyboard player Todd Stoops and Michetti went back into the end of "Welcome to the Donkey Show." This is musicianship. Seeing this ensures to me that this band will grow into a jam band super power.
After the amazing intro the band slowed things down by playing the jazzy "15 Shakes," and the dreamy Godzilla sounding anthem "Japan." "Quick & Painless > Massive," was the next run of songs, but fans knew that they were in for a treat when "Quick & Painless" went unfinished and the ivories were tickled by Stoops signifying the beginning of the short "Massive."
The first cover of the night was the James Gang song "Funk 49," where Michetti really took the bull by the horns and teased "Eruption" by Van Halen in his first solo. This solo by Eddie Van Halen has been documented and voted in as one of the top 100 solos of all time. It wasn't even supposed to be on their album. Eddie was warming up one day when his producer overheard it and loved it. Michetti made it look easy. Not only that, but his solo afterwards was even better than the tease. He shouted the words "Philadelphia," twice giving props to the grateful crowd.
The slithery "Rattlesnake" came next, with Stoops, Michetti, and bass player Jay Burwick playing in unison, demonstrating their close cohesiveness. The effects in this song are amazing. Next, if you can believe it, they brought the songs "Massive" and "Quick & Painless" back to close this astonishing set. Furthermore, Michetti teased Eddie Van Halen again. This time it was an "Unchained" tease in the closer "Quick & Painless."
The second set opened with "Bootch Magoo" off of their new album, which was recorded in Trey Anastasio's recording studio, The Barn, in Vermont. The song tells the saga of a melancholy man with a drinking problem that in the end we all can identify with. This song was left unfinished as the band went into "Gabvonie." RAQ then glided into their new song "Will Run," and back into the ending of "Gabvonie."
Next, came the unique dripping sounds of Stoops introducing "Crazy Tonie." After another mind bending solo from Chris Michetti, they played a very unexpected song. It was Billy Joel's "Big Shot." There is a rumor out there that this song is about a bad date that Joel had with Bianca Jagger. He said that he wanted to write a song about looking in the mirror with a very bad hangover from the night before. The next song's beginning was a striking reminder of "Buried Alive" by Phish, but it's a bluegrass song called "Comin' Home." This was an example of how diverse RAQ can play. A fun "Stuck in a Hole" kept the crowd's eyes glued to the stage in a psychedelic build of motion that resembled a fast moving train. Michetti wished the crowd another happy Cinco de Mayo while explaining that he loves the holiday so much because of all the shots there are to drink. There was a short vocal jam followed by a "Circumstance" jam, which then moved into "Moserine," with Michetti wanting so badly to play "Whipping Post." He teased it several times in the beginning of the song until they finally played "Moserine" with lots of Spanish speaking in the middle of it. "Hot Lunch" ripped into the end of the set, and RAQ's title track of their second album "Carbohydrates Are the Enemy" closed the second set. "Carbohydrates Are the Enemy" included teases of Mr. Big's "To Be With You," which entertained the crowd with nostalgia. At one point during this song I saw Michetti turn, recognize, and nod at my good friend Matthew "Curly" Brister because he knew his one of kind scream for his favorite song. This song really seems to captivate the fans and capture the essence of RAQ, a very talented band with great song writing skills as well. Both of those qualities together are hard to find in many newer bands today.
The encores were even big this evening. After Michetti thanked the crowd and explained that he was wasted, they played a two song encore starting with The Kinks "All Day and All of the Night." Finally, they shook the house with apocalyptic "Tumbling Down." There is a great quote from this song that I'd like to end with: "Every other day an opportunity is made to be a better man." If everyone took that advice to heart the world would be a much better place.
RAQ has played a heavy tour schedule this summer including Wakarusa and their own festival called the Lew Au II, but there are many other opportunities to see them still. I'll be at their show tomorrow night sailing by the Statue of Liberty on the Rocks Off boat cruise in New York City. Check them out as often as possible! They happen to be en fuego ahora! Adios!