Saturday, November 23, 2013

Prince Rama at The Earl, Atlanta, November 23, 2013

Stomp & Stammer is a local Atlanta music newspaper, perhaps the only living survivor of the fanzines of the 70s and the 80s.  As a matter of fact, last night Stomp & Stammer held their 17th Anniversary Party, with a lineup every bit as interesting as called for by the occasion.

The opening set was the premier performance by White Woods, a new band fronted by Julia Kugel of The Coathangers.

No one knew what to expect from White Woods. Creative Loafing, Atlanta's alternative weekly, described the band as a "retro- and Americana-toned" solo project, which gave us a little bit to go by.  But I don't think anyone expected the performance to be such an immersive visual and musical experience. 

The six members of the band, including Julia and two backup singers, took the stage all wearing white.  The stage lights were turned off, and the only illumination was by a projector playing a black-and-white German film with lots of titles and on-screen text, so that the white clothing of the musicians served as screens for the film, words and images playing across their bodies. 

Julia wore a long, flowing white dress and a large, pope-sized tiara and, frankly, never looked lovelier.  She sang, not in her high-pitched Coathangers squeal, but in an earthier, more emotive voice, and although the music certainly wasn't punk rock, it really couldn't be categorized as Americana, either.  She was backed by a very minimal drum set, just a snare and floor tom, keyboards, and alternately a second guitar, accordion, and even theremin.  The closest approximation I can suggest to their sound would be the recent acoustic efforts by Chelsea Wolfe, and the songs started out soothing and soft, but grew more and more menacing as the set progressed, with lots of interesting noise and dissonance brewing in the background behind Julia's vocals, but rather than let you guess what it was like, here's a sample:

The rest of The Coathangers were in the audience cheering Julia on, as well as who I can only assume was Julia's mom or at least some lady with the words "Coathangers Mom" on a napkin cloth-pinned to the back of her coat.  

In short, it was an amazing set and a most promising debut for this new band, whom I look forward to hearing more of in the future.

The heavy lifting of the middle set was ably provided by Atlanta's Zoners, filling in for Savannah's The Casket Girls, who were originally slated to perform.  Nonetheless, Zoners played loud, muscular and aggressive punk rock, featuring three guitars backed by drums and bass.    

The evening's headliners were Brooklyn's Prince Rama.  We last saw Prince Rama at the Farm 255 restaurant in Athens almost two years ago, and have been looking forward to seeing them again.  They did not disappoint.

Prince Rama shows have a reputation for being unpredictable affairs, and last night's show started with Taraka Larson on the shoulders of some stagehand, riding through The Earl audience covered by a veil while singing, as sister Nimai Larson drummed on stage in a gold lame bodysuit..

The Larson sisters famously grew up in a Krishna community in Alachua, Florida, just outside of Gainesville, and although they are no longer practicing Krishnas, the influence has obviously seeped into their music and performance.  Their parents drove up from Gainesville for last night's show; the father is the gentleman with the silver hair and denim jacket on the left side of the first photograph above of Tanaka being carried around The Earl.  I actually had a chance to talk briefly with him before the set began, and he told me that his daughters had recently come back from touring Australia and will be doing an installation piece at Miami's Art Basel festival this winter.  Mom had baked fudge and was giving samples out to the audience over by the merch table.  Cool folks.    

Taraka plays keyboards and does most of the singing, and Nimai plays percussion, sings, and dances.  Both Larson sisters wore colorful outfits, teased hair, and lots of glittery makeup, adding a visual spectacle to the performance.

Their set consisted mostly of songs from their latest album Top Ten Hits of the End of the World, in which the band "channels" ten imaginary bands at the time of an invented apocalypse, or something like that.  Their music was pop-py and eminently danceable, although not without weird psychedelic flourishes and their own enigmatic presence, especially on the last song, which was performed as they acrobatically danced in the middle of the audience, Nimai lip-synching covered in fake blood and using her water bottle as an imaginary microphone.      

It was all over far too quickly but still made quite an impression.  More pictures from the evening are posted on the Flickr site.  I understand that Prince Rama's not actually on tour right now, and did this gig as a one-off performance for Stomp & Stammer, but if you get a chance to see them, either at Art Basel or elsewhere, you really owe it to yourself to go.

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