Prince Rama, Sun Araw, Prince Arawrama
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Friday, August 26
Better than: Evacuation.
“Trust… trust… trust,” chanted keyboardist Taraka Larson and drummer Nimai Larson, a.k.a. Prince Rama, midway through their set. After announcing her intent, Taraka attempted to dispel the room’s pre-Irene tension by striding calmly from behind her keyboard to center stage, turning slowly away from the audience, and releasing herself backward into the rail hangers’ waiting arms in that old-fashioned New Age demonstration of you-know-what. Uncertain what to do with this karmic crowd surfer, the audience passed Taraka overhead briefly, then returned her to the stage without any visible damage. Having made their point, the sisters performed “Trust,” one of the incantatory blends of muscular tribal drumming, Bollywood kitsch, Indian devotional cinema, Sanskrit mantras, and other colorful Hindi hoodoo from their transcendently fake yet great forthcoming record Trust Now (Paw Tracks).
Several albums in, Prince Rama’s music is wickedly effective enough (even with the departure of keyboardist Michael Collins) to delay suspicions about what might inspire a couple of white girls to hijack South Asian tropes with such postcolonial bravado. The teen years these former punk rockers spent in a Florida Hare Krishna community, and later at a Boston art school, have led to a brand of DIY devotionalism and conceptual pranks (including “exorcise” routines at Issue Project Room) they deem “the Now Age.” Their avant-garde proclivities are apparent in last year’s astounding, Adam Paradis-directed video for “Om Navo Shivaya.” But what to make of the decidedly non-desi classical Indian dancer who added choreography to the earlier part of their set?
After promising to return later in the evening, Prince Rama were replaced onstage by Sun Araw, the led by guitarist-keyboardist Cameron Stallones. Part of a SoCal solar system of uncompromisingly experimental free-trance outsiders (it includes Magic Lantern, Pocahaunted, and Sadistic Candle, among others), the provocatively named trio (roll over Herman Blount) blends rack electronics with electric guitar, Tony Lowe’s electric saxophone, and, especially, Barrett Avner’s shahi baaja, an electrified Indian zither fitted with typewriter keys that can be wiggled to create vibrato and awesome feedback. And once again, the question was: Is this art, devotion, or some cultish spiritual pop hybrid?
The keyboard loops, abstract beats and nearly constant dub-inspired electronic tweaking assured that whatever might have been assayed from last year’s Tarkovsky-esque On Patrol (Not Not Fun) or this year’s Ancient Romans (Sun Ark/Drag City) was translated into another aesthetic register completely. Stallone described “Impluvium” as “sort of a dance number, could be”—but it wasn’t, not really. Technical difficulties seemed to arise throughout, not that anyone but the musicians would know. But you couldn’t call the half-improvised set cohesive. Glimpses were provided into a secret sound laboratory, and they would have to do for now.
Whatever trust the audience had placed in these two challenging and even presumptuous acts was repaid in full once the Larson sisters reappeared onstage. The combined bands’ half-hour “jam” was as patient and respectful a collaboration as any I’d seen in similar circumstances. They traveled up the slopes of Mt. Archaic Ecstasy slowly and patiently, then returned us safe and sound to whatever tomorrow might bring.
Critical bias: Why couldn’t Cameron Stallones have named his band Neil Ayoung, Built to Aspill, or just about anything else?
Overheard: After the show, somebody asked Barrett Avner, “What’s that instrument called?” “It’s a shahi baaja,” Avner answered. “I’d say it’s more like an electric shahi baaja,” the guy replied confidently.