What You're Missing: Roz and the Rice Cakes/The Local Music Scene
This past Mother's Day weekend truly felt like a celebration of the Providence music scene. I spent Friday and Saturday night taking in local indie stalwarts Roz and the Rice Cake's final shows together. I also got a solid glimpse of the local music scene I had been missing out on for so long as a native to this area.
Roz and the Rice Cakes is (was) the project lead by artist Roz Raskin. I had first known of Roz when we were both students back at Rhode Island College, and if memory serves me correctly, it dates as far back as late 2005. We had mutual friends together but I always felt a little intimidated to talk or introduce myself - for what reason, I'm not sure, as Roz is truly a kind and compassionate individual.
It would be another 12 years before I actually introduced myself, this past weekend. Part 1 of the festivities took place on Friday night at AS220. Roz was cordial upon greeting me and thanked me for making it down. Even though I, personally, had been mostly absent during their 10 year run, something inside my head spoke to me and told me to reach out. The band actually even played a photo exhibition of mine back in 2011 that I put on with fellow RIC contemporaries. With no one else really covering the shows, it only confirmed my feeling that I was supposed to be there.
As the crowd started to arrive and preparations continued, I was able to take a moment to meet Roz's bandmates - bassist/guitarist Justin Foster and drummer Casey Belisle, each band member as affable as the next/previous one. They welcomed me in and were gracious for my presence, really making me feel welcome and at ease in an environment where aside from my love of music, I was a bit of an outsider and didn't know anyone else there.
Each show featured 2 local opening acts and I have to say, I walked away seriously impressed. Not only by the skill, but the different flavor each act brought to the stage. Friday night's first opener was Volcano Kings, a 5 piece instrumental band that felt particularly adept at forming soundscapes that made you feel like you were somewhere else altogether. Sometimes slow, sometimes a picked up pace, the Volcano Kings mixed it up during their turn. Their set was short, but the slowly-filling room was captivated by their sound amidst an extra dimly-lit room. It felt very cinematic at times, almost like hearing a movie unfold in front of you, scene by scene.
The second act of the night belonged to soul/R&B masters, Boo City. As they packed the stage with 6 members, the room itself packed itself a little closer to capacity. Just about instantaneously, these guys had the room moving. I even noticed guitarist Matthew Whitcomb of Volcano Kings near the stage front, grooving pretty hard to Boo City's tunes. The music was so good that I couldn't help but move a bit myself while I went about my own business. Leads Tai Awolaju and Andrew Moon Bai regularly checked in with the crowd between songs, moving the night right along to the main act.
The first of two Rice Cakes shows was an acknowledgment of 10 years together as a band, under various iterations in regards to the name, but in finality - Roz and the Rice Cakes. The night's setlist featured a career spanning selection of tracks, including old crowd favorites "Like Ass" and "Magma", the latter of which had me scrambling for my phone to record the moment, but only to fail as I too, became swept up in the rolling drum pattern that also swallowed the sold out crowd, now tightly packed around me.
Raskin, an advocate of her concerts being safe spaces to fans of all backgrounds, continued to preach her message of concert inclusiveness. The crowd cheered her on in support as the band plugged away at their 16 song set. The night concluded with an encore performance of "Yellow Fields" from their 2010 EP. Friends and family stuck around late to congratulate the trio on a great show. As I was gathering my gear up to depart for the evening, I was approached by Raskin's parents, who kindly asked how I was and how my photos came out. They continued to kindly chat me up about the night and I could really see the overwhelming love and support for these talented musicians. This band was rooted in it's connections to the giant family it forged together.
Night 2 was an overcast one that was plagued by passing showers. It would also be the final show for the Rice Cakes before they went off in separate directions to work on other projects and endeavors. I made sure to arrive at the Columbus Theatre early to once more secure my best shooting angles and went to work.
Leading off the night was queer duo Fine, consisting of Iz Dungan and Ly Barber. The pair played a quick and fun set which included various hijinks from Barber, drumming behind a mostly-unaware Dungan, whom was more concentrated on their guitar work and vocal delivery. Their energy and enthusiasm set a positive tone for the night that certainly overpowered any saddened moods due to the weather. One standout of the set was actually a cover of St. Vincent's New York, off of her 2017 release MASSEDUCTION. The duo have been around for a little over a year but received a warm reception from the crowd in attendance and are poised to release their first full length album soon.
Following Fine was Last Good Tooth, a band that whose set really set a mood and impressed me. I'm not really great at deducing a specific genre of music that a band can be classified in, but in simplified terms, they are a fantastic folk band based out of Providence/NYC.
Any time I see a fiddle or viola on stage before seeing a performer I haven't seen before, I generally know I'm going to be in for something that will impress me. There's just something about adding strings to a song that takes it to a new level. I was right once again as the band led by Penn Sultan breezed through a beautiful set that included some witty stage banter between songs - at one point mentioning how he was looking forward to Raskin thanking him for selling out the show.
MorganEve Swain performed beautifully on strings and added her wonderful vocals in, harmonizing with Sultan throughout the set. The contrasts of their voices played off so well, I had to capture at least one song's performance. When fiddles began to howl to lead off a track, I initially was mesmerized and eventually pulled out my phone before Sultan broke into the vocal beginnings of "Best Way to Health".
Upon the conclusion of Last Good Tooth's set, the crowd in the 200 capacity upstairs theatre swelled as the seats filled and folks began to stand along the edges of the room to catch the best angle they could get of the Rice Cakes final performance.
Like the previous night, the setlist was one that spanned the full 10 years that they were together, but featured predominantly different songs from the ones performed the night before. For the second night in a row, I missed out on Magma because I was quickly sucked in once again. As the night was unfolding, I began to see the strength of the trio's catalog over the course of two jam-packed sets featuring upwards of 25-30 different songs performed.
The crowd caught a glimpse of an occasionally emotional Raskin, whose feelings about night would surface from time to time like the aforementioned stormy weather earlier in the day. It was clearly the culmination of 10 years of memories forged and coming of age - not just for her, but also her bandmates and their many fans who have been there with them, several dating back to the RIC days of the mid-naughts.
One standout moment of the night came when Raskin took a moment to acknowledge the role of the Rice Cake's mothers in their success, just minutes before Mother's day came upon us. Raskin ran sidestage to retrieve a collection of bouquets to bestow upon the matriarchs, only to discover her own mother was nowhere to be found (She was later found). She and the audience shared a quick laugh about it before continuing on with the night.
For about 70% of the night, fans opted to enjoy the option of the seats provided in the theatre. They watched a group of kids turned adults performing as one for the final time. The people in the room that night all seemed to have a connection to the band in some way, shape or form. As the set progressed toward it's latter stages, fans began to realize it was their final chance to get up and dance with the hometown band and began to take advantage one last time.
The crowded room eventually forced some to get up and dance at the side stage, along the front row and in the aisles. Raskin, Foster and Belisle would go on to play a multi-song encore, including another performance of fan favorite Yellow Fields before closing out the Rice Cakes era with 2015's "Close Encounter". Once again, a large portion of the crowd stuck around afterward to give their thanks and offer congratulations on the performance and the band. The back-to-back sold out crowds were a testament to the impact they had on the music scene over the past decade.
As I left the Columbus Theatre that evening, I couldn't help but think back to both the diversity and talent of the opening acts chosen to perform, as well as the support of the crowds in attendance for all of these local musicians. I can easily say that I enjoyed all of the artists/groups I saw this past weekend more than a good amount of the acts that I see opening up on national tours (Kudos to the Rice Cakes for curating these lineups). What made the night(s) extra special was to see the connection between the band and their fans, many of whom were friends and family. There is a strong connection amongst the artists/musicians in this area, as I'm sure is the case in several other areas across the country and world. Being there those nights, I could really feel and appreciate all that was happening around me.
There is a wealth of talent locally, in Providence, or whatever city is nearby to you from where you are reading this from. It's important to get out there and support these artists who have some wonderful/creative music to offer to the public. Get out there and see different groups, and all that they have to offer. Like me, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised and inevitably, stupid for not having done it sooner.
Listen to and purchase music from Roz and the Rice Cakes on their bandcamp page.
See more photos from night 1's Rice Cakes set at AS220 in the full gallery.
See more photos from night 2's Rice Cakes set at the Columbus Theatre in the full gallery.
See more video from these shows on my youtube channel.
Opening acts full galleries coming soon.