On a muggy August night in Jersey City, Taraka and Nimai Larson, along with guitar and synth wizard Ryan Sciaino, brought the fun to an eager crowd. Throughout the show the band bantered playfully with the audience, invited an attendee dubbed “Elvis” on stage to perform a “drunken Elvis song” and lead singer Taraka Larson knighted a few audience members in the front row with a medieval sword. Each moment was stranger than the last but that’s all just part of the Prince Rama experience.
“You want to hear something crazy?” Nimai asks the crowd from behind her tricked out drum kit. “This is our first show in New Jersey.” That is actually crazy because Prince Rama have been based in Brooklyn for nearly a decade and seem to always be touring or playing shows in the New York City area. Prince Rama’s live shows do not only express the band’s musical prowess but also feature theatrics and Taraka’s and Nimai’s unique sense of style. “You go to art school and you get infected with this disease called performance art and you go to rehab for years to get this disease out of you but no matter where you go it infects other people.” Taraka Larson explains after the show.
Part medieval apocalypse, part motocross, there is no denying that Prince Rama’s sense of style is an integral part of the show. Specifically, their current getups reflect the theme of their new album Xtreme Now which is a strange musing on Extreme Sports that was unexpected by the band, “We grew up in this tiny town in Texas and basically if you didn’t do sports you were a complete doofus. So we tried all the sports but we weren’t good at any of them…It’s strange that our music circled back to sports…it’s sort of a spiritual reclaiming of sports.”
While the crazy costumes and stage antics create a spectacle on the surface there is also something esoteric going on between Prince Rama and their audience. When I asked Taraka what her ideal setting would be for a performance her answer went beyond the normal setting of clubs and festivals, “I imagine this pastoral setting with no people actually – just sort of playing to yourself and then you open your eyes and there’s a whole stadium of animals watching you. And they’re all into it and animals of different kinds like predator and prey but they’re all taking a break from the animal kingdom to enjoy music together.”
Taraka and company certainly have goals that go beyond playing music and putting on a good show. Taraka explained the positive energy that a concert can provide. “I feel like show spaces are a perfect chapel…it can become a place of worship…you can turn any sort of space into a temporary autonomous utopian dome.” Also adding, “If I had to choose a religious path it would be utopia.”
Taraka’s genuine determination is the very essence of what makes Prince Rama a great band. During their set I could not help but feel that there was indeed a kind of euphoric catharsis occurring. During a 90s rave style song “Those Who Live For Love Shall Live Forever,” Taraka sings the chorus with conviction as she scans the crowd for non-believers to convert. Nimai also jumps in and dances with the crowd as Ryan multitasks playing both synthesizer and guitar. By making it clear there would be no pretensions held between the band and the crowd, Prince Rama break down the usual barriers that can exist at a concert and make everyone feel like they are not just there to see a band but also to take part in the performance.
After the main set had ended the cheers for an encore continued as Ryan emerged from backstage and started to mess around with sounds on his synthesizer. “You guys want them to come back out right?” He shrugs jokingly referring to Taraka and Namia who – much to the crowds delight – do come back out but are now dressed in kimonos and bathrobes instead of their psychedelic motocross getups. In a final breakdown of barriers, Taraka invites everyone to come closer to the stage, or just sit on the stage, as she tunes up an acoustic guitar. Everyone is now seated around the band as they begin to play a punky acoustic number called “Shitopia” which showcases how beautifully Taraka and Nimai can sing together. Their singing is hauntingly beautiful with Taraka in full chanteuse mode as the song builds and builds until the crowd is snapping and clapping along. Seated on the rug at Monty Hall Jersey City that night we all became connected through the music of Prince Rama.