Friday was a night of Brooklynite tribal catharsis at the Bowery Ballroom as New York bands Prince Rama and Suckers stepped forward to deliver their respective brands of experimental tribal pop to a packed crowd.
Prince Rama, previously a trio but now made up of drummer Nimai Larson and vocalist/keyboardist Taraka Larson, opened with its blend of Eastern mystic craziness and synth rock. Having just amicably departed with synth player Michael Collins, the duo positioned itself asymmetrically onstage, leaving a hole on the right side. This led to making an already disorienting set even more chaotic—you never really notice how comforting symmetry is until it just isn’t there.
Nothing about Prince Rama was comforting, actually. Taraka’s declarative soprano vocals were matched by Nimai’s stand-up drumming, layering tom-tom beats on top of synth lines that impossibly sounded futuristic and ancient at once. Onstage, the sisters maintained a presence that was lovely and off-putting. It is almost unfair how the words “tribal” and “ethereal” have been thrown around so much as to deprive them of meaning, because if any band deserves to be described as such, it is Prince Rama. The sisters, dressed in matching psychedelic garb and frazzled hair, would begin a song by murmuring “trust, trust, trust,” repeatedly, then fall silent for long enough to be uncomfortable, then launch into a massive synth groove.
Make no mistake—this is a self-consciously weird band. Taraka’s yelps, delirious on-stage banter (“release yourself,” she cooed), and reverberated chanting counterpointed to Nimai’s percussion dancing. Prince Rama decorated the stage with shiny ribbons and cloths everywhere. They need a fog machine, too. Oh, and lasers.
Suckers provided an eloquent comparison. Like Prince Rama, its aesthetic was just as intentionally odd (bearded lead vocalist Quinn Walker sported a patina of face and body paint, with sparks protruding outward from his eyes), but unlike the Larson sisters’ Infinity-pop, Suckers played a more traditional style of indie rock. Walker’s falsetto-dominated vocals led a propulsive band that was founded on Brian Aiken’s spectacular drumming and the repeatedly escalating choruses of yelpy catharsis that seem to be Suckers’ specialty.
Stylistically, Suckers are kin with the likes of Yeasayer, another Brooklyn experimental pop band that deals in harmonies, pretense, and dance beats. But hey, let’s call this what it is—Suckers play a pretty infectious and infectiously pretty brand of prog-rock, and that’s not as much of a damning descriptor as some make it out to be. With all four members singing and playing nearly all of the time, and with a meandering sound heavy on the keyboards, it was a feat that Suckers never lost track of the songs’ internal ebb and flow. With each breakdown, there was another build up, most likely stronger than the last.
At Bowery Ballroom, there was a lot of purposeful oddness going on, not all of it immediately endearing. With all of the psuedo-mystical chanting and face paint, the performances trod the line between affected and disingenuous a few too many times. But that’s the price for experimentalism. Suckers and Prince Rama played music that refused traditionalism, and the aesthetic was merely an extension of that. One had to buy into the idea that Suckers and Prince Rama had something to sell, but if you accepted that the weirdness was as much of an affectation as any other stylistic choice onstage (does anybody really think that indie bands refuse to clip protruding guitar strings for their benefit?), then this was an entertaining show by bands that are not content to remain down-to-earth.