Subterranean shows often run the risk of becoming a set of disjointed live performances: with four bands playing during the course of four hours, the event can leave just about any stable attendee borderline psychotic. Thankfully, Monday night was no exception.
For example, while headliner Indian Jewelry jammed out in cult-like black garb, the lead singer of Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan was bumping and grinding with a couple of potential groupies; a precious moment witnessed. Amazing, how a little reverb and a slug of PBR gets the fire started.
Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan kickstarted the madness. The lead musician, Nicole Miller, played the theremin with an unparalleled sensuality. Elsewhere, a disturbing drone disturbed the crevices, seeping into the corners of the stage. Nameless and looped, one track after another managed to both terrify and bewilder the audience. The music will haunt listeners’ dreams, but not before breaking their faces.
Drummer Alex Morales played a furious game of hot potato between a drum set and a Roland synth. The resulting frisson of rhythm was mesmerizing. Across from him stood Miller, laden in feathers. She hid behind bangs that covered half of her eyes. The songs melted and stuck like an abrasive adhesive, forming a single mold of musical nonsense.
Jim “Jimmy Whispers” Cicero, lead vocalist of Chicago-based band Light Pollution, came on stage almost immediately after the Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan set, singing like it was karaoke night on his 21st birthday. He wore a Bulls jacket, which added a hint of irony to his overall mind-boggling performance, begging the question: should we be taking this guy seriously? Cicero screams out to the crowd, “Dance, ladies.” Yet, not one lady—let alone a single audience member—is dancing. Twenty minutes passed, and no one got the joke. Cicero shrugged his shoulders and dwindled down from the microphone.
But the evening had only begun to get interesting. Sisters of Prince Rama, Taraka and Nimai Larson, have released four albums since their music career began in 2007. The NYC natives are signed to the Brooklyn-based label Paw Tracks, best known for the indie-psych pioneers Animal Collective. Included in the latest release, Trust Now, is a hand-written manifesto, explaining the rationale and aesthetics behind the band’s music. This manifesto should be a prerequisite for those who identify with Prince Rama’s music, but who are unable to translate the lyrics or decipher any context.
Drummer Nimai kept her head perfectly still in front of the microphone while contorting the rest of her body to keep in rhythm. Delayed vocals echoed through the hall. This dance trance music with a tribal twist drew in quite the diverse crowd. The sisters raised their hands in unison, as if summoning a monsoon, or perhaps a swelling swan song. No matter what one believes about “energy,” the feel was eerie.
Snare taps and cymbal claps oscillated through the room as Nimai raised her sticks to the ceiling, twirling them between her fingers. The music stopped abruptly, and she asked what night of the week it was. Someone answered her, and without a response, they pick right back up. Dull, primal rhythms kicked in and the sisters acted as sorcerers of the crowd with their majestic beauty. Glazed-over eyes fixated on the ladies as they chanted, “Trust,” over and over for several minutes.
The vocalist, Taraka, raised her hands equidistant to the Nimai and fell back into the crowd’s willing arms. She made her way elegantly back on to the stage, pulling off the crowd-surf act swimmingly. The music resumed after the brief distraction. This is not a coincidence since every track shifts tempo mid-song. A crowd member furiously declared that, “Prince Rama represents the most meaningful avant-garde of the 21st century.”
The ladies are striking on stage. Their beauty is magnified by their fluid body movement. If they weren’t chanting or playing their respective instruments, the performance could easily be mistaken for a psychedelia-infused retro work-out video (coincidentally, the band has performed and released on VHS a work-out video, likely available with purchase of Prince Rama’s manifesto). If not mistaken for an American Apparel ad with all the spandex and elaborate diamond eye accessories to boot, it may seem that physical appearance takes precedence over musical stylings, but this is not the case. Prince Rama are the real deal.
Headliner Indian Jewelry, noise-rock band from Houston, headed on stage and the room suddenly filled. Strobe lights peaked through clouds of smoke. One could smell freshly lit weed in the air as soon as they started setting up. The real post-Garcia hippies were about to rise to the high of their lifetime.
The true irony of this entire show is that the members of Prince Rama are self-proclaimed drug-free. The same cannot be determined for members of Indian Jewelry—all that can be concluded is that the performance certainly was intoxicating. Black turned to silence and strobe lights flickered whimsically. Those prone to seizures, if not forewarned at the door, were now fully aware of the risk being taken.
Synthesizers and loud guitar licks interwove for the last song. Evocation was not mentioned by any one performer or written in any show preview, but that is how magic works. You see, trickery is hidden in imagery and illusion—or disillusion. The choice is yours to decide. Consume with caution.