RAQ, Hot Shotz, Bellingham, WA 03/09
Bellingham, Washington is about as far north as you can get when it comes to the Pacific Northwest. Twenty more minutes and you're Canadian. Yet when RAQ took the stage for the first time in this little northwest corner there were believers in the house from North Carolina and Philadelphia too, a perfect testament to what this Vermont-based quartet has accomplished thus far. While young and still establishing itself, RAQ has really honed and tightened its sound in the last three years. Future jam titans? Who knows? But the band is producing jam rock in an energetic format, indicating that it could be on the same path current stalwarts like moe. and Umphrey's McGee have traveled.
Hot Shotz was abuzz early on thanks to the intense loyalty Bellingham holds for its local players. Area darling TapHabit opened, a nice prelude to the evening ahead. With its funky jams and Trey-inspired guitar, not to mention vocals reminiscent of Groovatron, TapHabit easily warmed up the dance floor; several goodie giveaways later and the audience was in quite the celebratory mood.
When RAQ came smashing in with "Brother From Another Mother" it was hard not to immediately feed off keyboardist Todd Stoops' youthful energy as he bounced behind his six-rig setup. By the time RAQ played "The Ventriloquist" three songs in, someone had pulled down a giant blow-up shamrock from the ceiling and sent it flying across the room, guitarist Chris Michetti acknowledging the move with an ear-to-ear grin across his face.
RAQ continued to drive forward at a blistering pace, Ween's "Push Th' Little Daisies" finding Stoops clawing at his keys before he started in with Star Wars beeps, which when accompanied by fast drums and heavy bass, sounded like the group was about to hit hyperdrive and transport to some kind of outer galactic arena. Another cover came along in the shape of ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses," a solid, lengthy jam accentuated by Jay Burwick's falsetto. Before the first set was over, RAQ tossed in "15 Shakes," a party tune that made you want to bop around, shaking your head with a drink in hand (many were), with Stoops' charisma shining through as he led on vocals.
Thoroughly warmed up, RAQ resumed the show with "City Funk," delving hard and fast into what proved to be a lively second set. When Van Halen's "Jump" appeared minutes later, the place went wild, with Stoops, who anticipated the return, nailing the opening riff.
Considering the quartet's playful lyrics, random covers, drums-guitar-bass-keys combo not to mention its hometown, it'd be easy to label RAQ just another Phish look-alike. But with a much harder sound, it seems the group is making a conscience effort to carve out its own style in the jam wheel. Living Colour's "Cult Of Personality" was followed by RAQ's own "CHUCK," a frantic, chaotic tune carrying a tone of playfulness. Going out the same way it came in with a bang RAQ closed out the evening (rather early morning) with "Late Night."
However, still not ready to end the fun quite yet, the Burlington boys hung out for another two hours after the show, carousing about in the alley behind the venue, unloading its giant stash of bottle rockets before hitting the Canadian border.
Something tells me this won't be the last time Bellingham encounters RAQ.