Nimai Larson, one third of Prince Rama, sits across the table from me as I sip my obligatory can of PBR before the show. She has four small, red, probably plastic jewels bedazzling her face from her temple to the top of her cheek bone, which either comes across as either a seemingly cheap indication that there is something Eastern Indian about her spiritual makeup, or some innocuous form of stage makeup. We have been talking for some time now about other bands, the tour, general pleasantries. Her outgoing nature is not at all invasive or obnoxious. She laughs a lot and has a huge, youthful smile; one of those ear to ear things that reeks of someone who can conjure joy at the drop of a hat. This makes me immediately jealous and attracted to her.
After a few more minutes of titillating talk regarding Animal Collective and the current temperature of the venue, the other two-thirds of the band walk by. Michael Collins (who wears cut-offs better than Tobias Funke) and Taraka Larson, Nimai’s sister. “Is it time?” Taraka declares more than asks. Nimai gets up from the table and says “Let’s go bang on some stuff.” With that, I follow Prince Rama into the next room.
We’re at The Hideout in Chicago, a venue that’s a bit of a trek to get to no matter how you slice it. Located north of Goose Island and south of DePaul, The Hideout’s x-mas lights outlining the roof are the only thing signifying it might be a place where folks congregate. Inside is your standard small bar about 25′ x 15′ with two swinging kitchen doors that lead into the actual venue space, which also happens to be about 25′ x 15′. Prince Rama is set up on the floor in front of the stage which now makes the space about the size of a high school classroom. Nimai stands center stage behind her drums. Absent in her kit are a snare, bass drum, hi-hat, and a stool–she has about two or three rocket toms, several floor toms and a crash cymbal. Taraka and Collins align themselves on either side of Nimai behind their keyboards, synths, pedals, and a whole litany of electrical effects of which I know nothing about save that they can make really neat sounding blips and bleeps.
The sound of Prince Rama isn’t just tinged with eastern influences, or has a bit of Ravi Shankar sitar peppering their tracks. They are head over hookas steeped in psychedelia, tribal sounds, and a distinctly eastern vibe. I’d wager the best way to describe their sound is Yoko Ono meets Aman DÃ¼Ã¼l as they sit around with Animal Collective and dance. Now, I cheaply compare them like that only so that I can say the following: many future bands will be tagged with “They’re kinda like Prince Rama…” because there is something incredibly powerful and unique about the sound they are developing.
“Everybody, it’s a small place, let’s all keep warm and get closer,” Taraka shyly spoke into the mic before the first track. A total of 22 people including yours truly were in attendance at the show. Nimai told me that she just played Detroit and it was “one of our best. 250 people, all dancing.” This was a far cry from that, so the trio had their work cut out for them at The Hideout.
They dove into their first track ”Raghupati”, a song from their forthcoming Paw Tracks debut Shadow Temple. Thunderous drums led the tune as it galloped deftly along. Nimai’s drumming is alluring and seductive (temporary crush notwithstanding) and is the backbone of the band’s sound. She beats the bad karma from those drums through the entire set with skill and a natural feel for a good groove. Taraka’s soprano voice is layered with plenty of reverb. It literally sounds like the ghost of Grace Slick if Slick could sing in a higher octave and were dead. Collins tinkered with his synthesizer producing lines of electro buzzing that whirred and complimented Taraka’s vocals and gave even more weight to the heartbeat of the drums. His stage manners resembled that of Jonny Greenwood in that I have no idea what he’s doing, but he’s enjoying the hell out of doing it and it’s producing some outlandish and effective digital/analog sound.
Into their second song, Taraka came out into the audience with a milk crate full of shakers, small drums, noise makers, shakers, a whole variety ersatz auxiliary percussion instruments, and handed them out to the crowd. I grabbed a plastic easter egg with tiny rocks in it. The audience was less than enthusiastic about playing their part of “Satt Nam”, but I appreciated the effort of incorporating the crowd in their celebration.
Which is what Prince Rama is: a celebration of music. It may not be music that is easy to digest at first, but it’s full of life and love, something that I respect above all things when it comes to a live show. But eventually I came to a fork in the road with their songs: am I bored or am I entranced? I feel like this all has to do with how one personally handles the concept of repetition and this kind of music. If boredom overcomes you when listening to psychedelia and “world” music, if you look for singable lyrics and memorable hooks, you’re gonna be lost with Prince Rama. And that’s completely understandable. They are a young band who are playing on the fringe with experimental sounds and non-traditional song structures. It lands when the dynamics are emotive and the melodies and chord structures dip their toes into pop sensibilities (“Portalling”, their third song, was a great example of this). It misses when songs begin to meander and lose focus, which happened a couple of times throughout their short 30 minute set. But like I said, if repetition and trance becomes mantra-esque for you, every second of a Prince Rama show and album will lead you down the path toward peace, enlightenment, body buzzes, floating, tripping, nirvana, etc.
I couldn’t reach it. Perhaps it was my lack of substance assistance (one can of PBR doesn’t really do it) which I’m sure other people use, or perhaps it’s my own lack of centeredness and personal connection with worldly cosmic energy, or perhaps the fact that 22 people spaced like checkers in a small room awkwardly holding maracas and the like were not wanting to get their dance on and their love on as Prince Rama so desperately wanted them to. PR failed to connect at the level their music begs, but they proved to be a unique and growing force. I could picture them on a stage at an outdoor festival with shirtless hippies hopping and dancing and singing, eyes closed and smiling. I even closed my eyes at one point during the 10 minute closer “Aeolian Divine” and felt whisked away for a second, lost in the lines of the synth, the heartbeat of the drums, and the voices of all three members as they incanted the lyrics. I get what they’re going for. Maybe you will, too.
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Setlist: (as written in my notebook by Nimai, forever to remain)