Prince Rama at The Brooklyn Bowl

Prince Rama is the freakiest of psychedelic freak folk crazy music. Listening to this band is a phenomenal mini acid trip and seeing them live is like being on the most glorious ride, one that no real drug could ever give you. I have seen this band play many times between New York and Massachusetts and each time I hear them, I am taken on a new and completely different journey. The band is comprised of two sisters, Taraka and Nimai Larson, and friend Michael Collins and yet, one feels there has to be some other spiritual presence playing alongside, above and below them. It’s easy to imagine an entire temple of rainbow-clad devotees bowing at their feet and the audience was attuned to this, swaying, keeping time on hand-made instruments handed into the audience by the band and getting pretty freaky with each other. This show was on the Friday before Halloween and the addition of Brooklyn’s finest ironic costumes only made this show even better. Nimai Larson stood center stage and sang as she played drums on an unusual drum kit that substituted a floor tom for a kick drum. The effect was less of a rock and roll “oom-pa” sound and more of a tribal, drum circle, driving, chanting beat, which gives this band its core without feeling hokey or forced. Collins sings as well, looping and tweaking the sound on a few machines in addition to some interesting synth lines. Taraka Larson is the lead singer here and she is beautiful, charming, always dressed appropriately kooky (she said during the show that her ideal Halloween costume would be a “mirror ball”), and does quadruple duty playing electric guitar, keyboard, looping her own creations, and singing. Her voice soars miles above the endlessly winding flow of this band’s music and I quickly fell into a deep and euphoric trance. As each song ended, I could barely remember to clap. The band met while living in a Hare Krishna community in Florida and their music is clearly informed by their experiences and background. Their lyrics are an amalgamation of Sanskrit chants and call and response mantras and while the words are largely incomprehensible (either in English or whatever spiritual language they have chosen that day) this is not an obstacle to enjoying their music. The picture they weave, the spinnig rainbow dream-world, is so authentic and so transporting that seeing them play is less like a concert and more like a group meditation ceremony. They are engaging, have charming on-stage personalities and broad smiles that invite everyone to enjoy the experience in any way they please. They’re on tour in Europe for the next few weeks, but upon their return to the states they play at The New Museum in New York with Deakin of Animal Collective on December 10.


GREAT PERFORMANCES: Martha Wainwright sings Edith Piaf and the Mittenstrings at Le Poisson Rouge

Monday night, I went to Le Poisson Rouge to see Martha Wainwright sing an entire evening of Edith Piaf’s songs. Wainwright chose an hour and a half of the French chanteuse’s lesser-known repertoire and turned it on its head. I arrived extremely early and, as a reward for my promptness, I got at least the second-best seat in the house, 10 feet away from the round stage with a perfect view of the musicians and 20 feet away from a lion-like man who I’m reasonably sure was Loudon Wainwright III. The club was mostly dark except for a few choice red lights and a fantastic soundtrack of jazz and samba filled every corner. Suddenly, it wasn’t 6pm, but 1am and we were all a little too friendly with each other, a little tipsy, despite not having yet even seen a waitress, and again and again, I heard the same words excitedly zoom out of various mouths, “This is going to be so great.”

The show was opened by cousins of the Wainwright clan, the Mittenstrings. They’re a small band of two women and one man who sing all together with the accompaniment of a keyboard, guitar, the occasional banjo, harmonica and, yes, of course, it’s a folk band, the AUTOHARP. Instrument of my bygone hippie childhood, how I at once both adore and revile thee for thine tinny sounds. The Mittenstrings are, as they proclaim themselves to be on Le Poisson Rouge’s listing of the event, “young and new, shiny and cute.” They’re well-dressed and have a general ease onstage. Their harmonies are closely woven together and lead singer Lily Lanken’s voice is so obviously a member of the Wainwright-McGarrigle family that their music felt like an update and extension of Martha Wainwright’s self-titled first album and Kate McGarrigle’s heartbreakingly honest ballads (when Martha Wainwright later proclaimed two members of the group her cousins, the entire audience laughed and applauded, as if to say, “Well, obviously!”) The song 105 was far and away their best song of the evening. It’s simple, with lots of “doos” and “las” and yet the lyrics are cute and clever, starting with “I want to be your missed connection” a reference to the personals section of the same name on (which I love to troll late at night in between reading Wikipedia’s list of ghost ships). The driving rhythm and, once again, brilliant harmonies make this a standout on their record, as well. Their album strays into some pop territory, which doesn’t quite fit with their dreamy folk aesthetic and was, in fact, omitted from their live show. When they started their set, the audience was chatting, ordering food and drinks and uninterested in anyone onstage who was not Martha Wainwright, but the Mittenstrings successfully captured our attention. So subtle and quiet was their entrance into our psyche that, by the end of their set, we were surprised to find ourselves silent and dreaming along with them.

Martha Wainwright’s set opened with the song, “Le Chant d’Amour”. As the piano and the double bass played a series of tremolos, which mimic the sound of bows moving fast back and forth on strings, Wainwright’s voice soared out above the audience, grabbing us by the throats. There wasn’t room for an extra sound in the house. The song is a bit anticlimactic, but no one seemed to mind. She pleads in French, “let me sing” and no one denied her the privilege. She is not just a singer, but a true entertainer, using the circular stage to include every part of the room in her performance. Her band includes the virtuoso pianist Thomas Bartlett, her husband Brad Albetta on the double bass and the incomparable Doug Wieselman on the guitar and the clarinet. C.J. Camerieri and Will Holshouser joined in occasionally on the trumpet and the accordion respectively adding a decidedly French touch to the sound.

She is terribly funny and gave brief, raunchy introductions to almost every song. She explained at once point, “all of these songs are either about a young, old, or middle-aged prostitute or a young, old, or middle-aged drunk,” which is a fairly accurate description as many of Piaf’s songs were written to allude to her past life on the streets of Paris. Wainwright chose many lesser-known songs and left out a few of the brilliant, yet tired hits. Non, Je ne regrette rien and La Vie en Rose were mercifully absent. It can be intensely difficult to cover a song with so much collective memory behind it. Audiences occasionally have a hard time accepting a different version of a song they can whistle in their sleep. While informed by Piaf’s theatrical style and captivating conviction, there was no imitation here. Wainwright put her own distinct intention behind these tunes and her voice slips and slides between the notes in a torrent of emotion. One of her best songs of the evening was “Le Brun et Le Blond”, a bluesy, jazzy sexy tune about a girl who can’t decide between two men, a serious, tormented brunette and a joking, fun-loving blond. As the story comes to an end, the blond kills himself, saying, “I’ve laughed enough.” Wieselman’s guitar solo during this song brought the audience to our feet, marveling in the fusion of good old-fashioned american “my woman left me” blues with iconic French languor.

Her vast vocal range is impressive and she alternately soars, belting out impossibly high notes, and growls her frustration and anguish. She smiles and invites us deep inside a fantastical world of whores, drunks, sailors and late-night sea-side soirées, then closes her eyes and shuts us out, creating a tension that left us banging on the nightclub doors, asking for remittance, for god’s sake! This show was one of the last of the Piaf tour but, whatever fatigue or frustrations they might have had, the atmosphere remained casual and friendly, despite a small mid-set marital spat; at the beginning of a song, Wainwright turned around to her husband and stopped the song, saying, “are you REALLY cleaning your bass while I’m singing? Can you at least pretend to be interested in me?” The arrangements of these songs were fresh and exciting and the entire evening was magical. At the end we jumped to our feet and whistled, clapped and whooped for more and we were rewarded. For an encore, Albetta sat at the piano and Wainwright sang “Stormy Weather”, a song she freely admits she borrowed from her brother Rufus’ tribute to Judy Garland. The tour has, unfortunately, come to a close, but the album is a recommended addition to the library of any music lover. It is a live recording from the Dixon, here in New York, and I was so excited to be able to relive every moment of this glorious event. It is available on her website,

The Chapin Sisters at the Living Room, Night 1 of CMJ

From the second that the Chapin Sisters showed up at The Living Room, a small venue on the lower east side, I knew this was going to be an amazing performance. They were lugging more than their fair share of guitars, percussive hand-held instruments and pints of beer and they were dressed to the nines, which is often a good sign from folk musicians, who don’t always go for the gold when it comes to clothes. The sisters first gained some serious media attention when they covered Britney Spears’ song Toxic, to wild acclaim. Lily and Abigail Chapin are the two sisters in this group and everything about their music shines. Their harmonies are complex and intricate and their genetically related vocal cords sound phenomenal together, as though the resultant vibrations match on a celestial level, not just a corporeal one.
Their songs are at once majestic and humorous; the sisters ditched their band to sing an acapella song halfway through the set entitled Sweet Light and what had before been a hot, crowded room, was suddenly the open deck of a ship. With the floor rocking under our feet, the audience barely breathed until the song was over, perhaps afraid of capsizing such pure, sweet sounds. The song Boo Hoo, which really is about crying, and their single Digging a Hole were, by far, my favorite songs of the set and off of their album. They’re both catchy and peppy without being at all trite or cliched. It seems like every genre I’ve ever loved gets a mention here; the percussion on Digging a Hole is an homage to a Native American drum circle while the lyrics are a nod a brand of feminist country music that tugs at the heart strings.
The song I liked least was Palm Tree which was oddly forced and felt insincere among such a heartfelt group of songs. There’s a little bit of surfer rock in their music (possibly due to their recent move to my homeland of Los Angeles) vintage country, and spooky, splatter folk and it all comes together to create an aching, mellifluous sound. They have two albums, Lake Bottom LP and Two both available on iTunes. They’re currently on an extensive national tour and you can check out those dates at their website

Beach Fossils at the Brooklyn Bowl

Beach Fossils – Not the greatest quality video, but amazing performance!

On Sunday night, I went to a free show called Local x Local at the Brooklyn Bowl featuring a few local businesses as well as Brooklyn band Beach Fossils. I’ve never been to the venue before but HOLY GUACAMOLE (there was a locally grown salsa-made-from-every-plant-you-can-think-of-table)! Brooklyn Bowl is a restaurant, a bar, a bowling alley, and a music and dance venue all puzzle-pieced together. The dark wood floors, massively high ceiling beams and brick walls make this place look like the Valhalla of fun. The stage and the pit are big, much bigger than The Living Room, Rockwood Music Hall, and both floors of Backstage Bar combined. As a performer, your job is to take up all the air in the room, to fill the stage and the audience, not necessarily with people, but with your music, your sound and your attitude. Ideally, you want to be larger than life, and when you’re swallowed by a too-big stage, your mere humanity is painfully obvious.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been lucky enough to become acquainted with Beach Fossils, but what follows next are all things I would say about them regardless of our burgeoning friendship. They rock. Though only a four-person band, they took free reign of the space, using most of the stage. They came out smiling, as though they were ready to share a little secret with us; that we were about to be entertained and we had better get stoked. Fast. The set started off high-powered and gripping and never lost momentum. They were constantly moving around on the stage (the drummer even stood up at this kit and the bassist took off his sneakers and danced, using a good third of stage left for himself, which got an entirely different group of side-hanging wall flowers dancing) and it’s clear they actually enjoy playing their own music. They looked at each other, joked to the audience, smiled, laughed and filled the entire room with…well, what I can only call Good Vibes. Their music fits right in with this attitude; they’ve got fantastic, memorable traveling bass lines, peppy drumming, and frontman Dustin Payseur’s voice is charming and sweet. Their tropical surfer-new wave-rock hodge-podge is hard to describe but easy to like. I can only think this band is doing everything right. They have one full-length self-titled album out right now as well as two really great EP’s, of which Face It/Distance is my favorite. They’ll be on tour in Europe for the next six weeks, but after that I hope we can look forward to their glorious return to the Brooklyn music scene. Check out their myspace

Slavic Soul Party at Barbés in Park Slope Every Tuesday…Forever

Slavic Soul Party at Barbés

In Los Angeles and Boston, the two places I’ve lived in this, my short, yet eventful life, Tuesday nights are a bummer. They always have been. There’s nothing on TV, Darcy is really being a jerk to Elizabeth, my friends are all busy, the fridge is empty, I’m out of popcorn, whatever the obstacle, you name it, it happens on a Tuesday. You’re not even halfway through the week on Tuesday! This past weekend’s blissful memories are now more than twenty-four hours behind you! Those Terrible Tuesdays.

But New York and Brooklyn take a different view of these things the rest of the world call “weekdays” or “workdays”. Tuesdays here are “why not?” days. You want that doughnut? Why not, it’s Tuesday! You want to dance to Slavic marching band-funk and drink vodka like you’re in the old country? Why not, it’s Tuesday! At Barbés, a small, dark cave of a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the band Slavic Soul Party brings Tuesday nights to life with a vengeance. The venue space is a small room squeezed into the very back of the bar with a red tin ceiling and an ailing upright piano. This raucous nine-piece band takes up a third of the room and an unruly crowd of ultra enthusiastic dancers, movers and shakers pack into the rest. It seems that no one walks through the red-curtained doorway without a drink in their hand, often two, and by 10:30 or so, most of the crowd is generally a little unsteady.

The music is nothing short of divine. For someone like me, whose taste in tunes ranges from Opera to Dream-pop, this band is delightfully genre-bending. The band boasts an accordion, a tuba, two different drum and percussion players, two to three trumpet players, two trombones with one member doing double duty on both the saxophone and the clarinet. The sound is a mix of traditional Slavic melodies and rhythms (it’s in 4/4 time, but where the hell is 1!?), crazy rhythms like 7 alternating with 5, 9 alternating with 11, combined with funk bass lines and deep grooves that get everyone dancing. The band members are constantly laughing, smiling and participating with their audience (who are, admittedly, mere inches away from the bells of the brass. They would have to be heartless and cruel to ignore us. Which they aren’t. This is an entirely positive review.) It seems that every musician gets their chance to solo, with possible exception of the tuba, no complaints there.

Tuesdays at Barbés could almost be called a Dance Night, depending upon the crowd that shows up. It really is the perfect way to perk up your week, but be sure to bring your earplugs.