ARCHIVE of District of Cacophony

January 6, 2011 | REVIEWS

Imperial China, Ra Ra Rasputin @ Rock & Roll Hotel, 12/10/10

So it seems like Imperial China are still going strong, playing lots of shows around town, going on a few out-of-town jaunts, getting some nice publicity at the end of the year for their album Phosphenes (I reviewed it here). I think this band has a tough go of it. The kind of music they play doesn’t have much of a following anymore here in DC, but the band is not a gang of 20-year-olds who can move off to Brooklyn or wherever. Maybe they can toe the fine line or — who knows? — help to jump-start some new interest in more challenging indie rock in Washington, DC.

A couple of my friends wanted to go see them in December as the holidays approached, as a chance to start letting loose and rocking out. (I always miss the Rattler holiday parties where that is the entire theme.) I got there in time to catch much of the set of one of the openers, they were called Mon Khmer. They weren’t bad. Kinda generic.

Imperial China played a lot of new material; they have a new album coming out pretty soon, I believe. The new stuff sounded a bit different, and was not as immediately appealing as some of their older material. But it sounded like the same band, with the same strengths and flaws. I will listen to it again in the future and make a better judgment. Also, I always find the Rock and Roll Hotel to be such a shoddy venue that it is hard to give a fair review. Also also, Imperial China weren’t the headliners, and a lot of people were maybe not paying close attention, based on the next band that went on.

Still, the parts of Imperial China’s set that grabbed me the most were the same songs I loved on Phosphenes — all the instrumentals plus “Letter of a General.”

The actual headlining act was local band Ra Ra Rasputin. They have become pretty popular lately, so I wasn’t averse to seeing them. But I don’t really need to again. What a weird band! They played straight-up electro-dance pop, very similar to New Order. The whole performance, my friends and I were like, “is this ‘Blue Monday’?” and “is this ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’?” They also threw in a little funk. None of those are bad things.

I have nothing against New Order. Ra Ra Rasputin’s music was pretty great, actually. If they had been all instrumental, I’d probably have ended up dancing around, having fun. But this band had a horrible, awful singer. Like, really really bad. Now, I am a bad singer, and I have sung in public. But I have never tried to act like a dance-pop star, let alone a prepster-looking dance-pop star. Ugh.

Some random strangers near us started shouting out, “let the girl sing!” and my friends and I joined in. There was a cute chick in the band who played keys and sang back-ups and occasional lead vocals, and she was so much better than the main singer that you began to wonder if his performance wasn’t a weird Tony Clifton-esque joke. Like, why wouldn’t you let the cute girl be the face of the band? It is a win-win situation. I guess you let the bad-singing douchey guy front your band when you don’t care about what the music snobs think…

We skipped out before Ra Ra Rasputin were done and drank elsewhere on H Street. At least now I know. If they play an instrumental set, I’d totally consider seeing them again, but please, please, no singing from that dude…