Surf Rock Safari: The Cuban Cowboys

The six-piece Syracuse-based Ra Ra Riot formed in 2006, but a lot has happened since then. The band released a self-titled EP and blew away festivalgoers at South by Southwest and CMJ last year. But it hasn't been all good news: Last June, the group's drummer drowned, halting Ra Ra Riot's momentum. Whether the title of its best song, "Dying Is Fine," is eerily prescient or just plain depressing is for you to decide. Either way, the infectious indie-pop tune jumps around like a hyperactive poodle, restrained only by the pull of the violin that weaves around the song. Ra Ra Riot is back on the road, "moving people physically and mentally as a means of effecting positive micro/macrocosmic change" — or so they say. Ignore the pretension, and dance away to the grooves when Ra Ra Riot performs on Thursday, April 3, at Popscene at 9 p.m. Admission is $13; visit www.popscene-sf.com for more info. Danielle Sills

The Washington, D.C. pop troupe Le Loup is as sonically loose as older siblings Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire, but lyrically its members' sights are set on matters more political and philosophical. The group's new album, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, is an ambitious yet scattershot affair packed with jagged instrumentals, preachy cantos, and lots of exclamation points. Packed between eight dreamy multi-instrumentalists, frontman Sam Simkoff's uppity vocal narratives shine through. The album, released on Sub Pop offshoot Hardly Art, is just a blueprint for what the band is capable of live. Le Loup performs on Friday, April 4, at Bottom of the Hill at 10 p.m. Admission is $10; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com for more info. Doug Wallen

Chuck Prophet is one of those local songwriters who should be more of a household name than he is (Sean Hayes, anyone?). Lack of mainstream success hasn't stopped him from churning out album after album of jangly, hook-filled rock, though. Not that he's especially prolific — his latest, 2007's Soap and Water, was his first in three years, but it was worth the wait (the full-on vocal choir singing a chorus of "Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid" on "Let's Do Something Wrong" is especially priceless). And Prophet isn't totally unknown either — recent late-night TV appearances on Letterman and Carson Daly and rave SXSW reviews have seen to that. Which means Prophet could be soon outgrowing smallish places like the Red Devil Lounge, where he plays this Friday, April 4, at 8 p.m. Admission is $15; call 921-1695 or visit www.reddevillounge.com for more info. Ezra Gale

The Cuban surf-rock genre had its beginnings about four years ago, when Miami-born Jorge Navarro was doing academic research on music as an educational tool for Latino students. During that time he came up with the concept for the Cuban Cowboys, abandoning his dissertation for the pursuit of a musical career. In a live setting, the local act doesn't include congas, maracas, or other Latin percussive instruments; instead, what you get is a high-energy trio that uses elements from Cuban and South American music within a rock context. Navarro sings in faux-accented Spanglish with lyrics that mostly speak of his absent father and irreparably damaged broken hearts. Hear for yourself when the Cuban Cowboys support Les Sans Culottes on Tuesday, April 8, at Cafe du Nord at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $10; call 415-861-5016 or visit www.cafedunord.com for more info. Ernest Barteldes

 
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