SHOW REVIEW: Gang Gang Dance w/ Prince Rama

OUT & ABOUT|Show Reviews

Okay, so I know I’ve been spending too much time at 285 Kent.  I know you’re all sick of hearing about it.  I’m thinking of getting a tattoo of a sharpie line drawn across my wrist so they won’t have to ID me anymore, maybe even the “RANDO” stamp they use on my forearm so I don’t have to pay to get in.  For all you foursquare nerds out there, check out the mayor – it’s actually me.  But none of this is my fault.  I could quit if I wanted.  It’s just that there is too much goodness going on inside those walls on a nightly basis, really.

On Sunday night, that goodness took the form of Gang Gang Dance and Prince Rama.  It was the last night of GGD’s “Tour of Williamsburg” in which they played Public Assembly on Friday (with Sun Araw), Cameo Gallery on Saturday (with New Moods), and 285 on Sunday (with Prince Rama).  All of these shows were put together by Brooklyn-based booking agency Bandshell, whose mission is to bring bigger bands to smaller, more intimate venues.  From what I can tell their venture is a new-ish one and they don’t seem to have any events coming up, but it’s a mission we can get behind and we’d like to see it succeed.

I’d been dying to see Prince Rama but had missed the seven billion opportunities I’d been given in the past.  Now I will say this: NO MORE.  No more will I show up late to shows where they are opening, no more will I skip their free or cheap shows for some other free or cheap show, no more will this band play in Brooklyn without seeing me at the foot of their stage, worshipping every move.  These ladies (and one gentleman) do it so, so right.

First, they were wearing ultra-eccentric outfits (think animal print, think sequins) and had gold glitter all over their faces and all of them (the boy too!) had pretty hair.  The driving force of the project is sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson, joined by guitarist Michael Collins.  The three met in a Hare Krishna commune in Florida and honed their psychedelic leanings in art school.  Oddity can sometimes seem affected or put on, part of a performance rather than a way of life, but for Prince Rama it’s genuine and engaging.

Taraka sang the majority of the vocals and was also in charge of the synths, but abandoned them relatively often for a little audience participation.  The audience this night included members of the Larson family; during the second-to-last number Taraka jumped off stage and danced with what I’d assume was maybe her mother, who seemed to know all the words.  Nimai stood in a circle of drums, dancing while she played, her smile so wide and constant that she kind of reminded me of the girl muppet in Dr. Teeth’s Electric Mayhem.  She was adorable and so fun to watch, but it was hard to train the eyes on any one thing.  There were cool projections mirroring their movements filtered to look like some kind of crazy acid trip, and the stage was festooned with loudly printed textiles and gauze.

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Musically, Prince Rama’s sound is designed to put you in a party trance of sorts; there’s plenty of chanting and call-and-response but it’s backed up by an acute understanding of what makes a song worth dancing to.  I’ve been to plenty of psych shows that devolve into sort of boring drone, and this is the exact opposite.  To prove that, the sisters leapt off stage during the last number and performed an incredible dance routine on the floor to close out the show; this included flips, hand motions, dramatic facial expression, and probably went on for over six minutes.  Since they’d arrived late and hadn’t been able to start the show on time, yet the venue wouldn’t allow them to hold up Gang Gang Dance’s scheduled performance, the dance number ended up being a significant portion of time in their set overall.  But it was absolutely enchanting.  I cannot wait to see them again.

Gang Gang Dance play a similar brew of exotic psych, but there are way more people in the band and have a much heavier ratio of males to females – there are four dudes to the one lady, Lizzi Bougatsos.  At this particular show there was also a strange shaman-type dude in the band; he mostly hid behind the amps but he’d peer around them with some weird antique binocular-type gadget, or hit an adjacent cymbal with a piece of rope tied to his wrist.  At one point he did move to the front of the stage to hold a drum head so Lizzi could bang on it, but that was as present as he ever seemed.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.  Before the show even started, Bougatsos appeared onstage in a baseball cap and a homemade hijab, asking the house DJ to stop playing MIA.  Despite Gang Gang Dance’s obvious affinity for world beats, exotic instrumentation, and Middle-Eastern influenced sonic tinges, Bougatsos proudly identified herself as a Long Island girl, glorious accent and all.  When she sings, though, it sounds like she’s coming from some other planet.  She also plays a floor tom and a smaller set of drums.  The synth guy sometimes played drums too, and then there was actual drummer.  Together, they caused quite a lovely racket, the band spooling out their off-center dance tunes into sprawling psychic meditations.  They tackled favorites like “Mindkilla” “Adult Goth” “Egyptian” and “Vacuums”, interspersed with new songs like “Lazy Eye”, which prompted Bougatsos to keep a lyric sheet on hand, though she ended up not needing it.  In addition to building kaleidoscopic jams out of their regular material, the band also debuted some expansive instrumental tracks.  The only song notably missing from the set was “House Jam”, but in such a long and tight set its omission was not exactly tragic.

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It’s been over a year since Eye Contact was released, and it’s exciting to see the band develop new material, though if the time that passed between their most recent release and 2008’s Saint Dymphna is any indication it will be a while longer before we see a new full length.  If this trio of performances is any indication, Gang Gang Dance are far from exhausting the font from which their reputations as experimental wunderkinds flow.