Published Apr 03, 2016Care of Pavel, Dinner, and Prince Rama, last night's (April 2) triple bill served up three distinct perspectives on the megalithic concept known as pop music. Up first, Mesa Luna's Alex Cooper laid down a fifteen minute set of solo material under the moniker of Pavel, sparsely tweaking downtempo beats to cushion the depressed Xiu Xiu-esque vocals coming out from under his concealing hoodie. It was apparently his first time bringing the project out live, so the slim selection of songs and somewhat insular performance was understandable.
Touring with Prince Rama as Dinner, Danish producer and singer Anders Rhedin did even less musically than Pavel, but did so much more with the stage. While all of his tracks were canned, his performance art inspired a bizarre fascination from the moment he took the stage, imploring the half-full venue to move forward and meditate on the sounds emerging from the speakers and the awkward vogue-ing and fitness dance moves he'd thrust out mid-song — be it swaying bent over with a sparkly scarf on his head, waving his arms in circles, or shoveling his crotch aura to the heavens. He was like Dieter from Sprockets all hopped up on Henry Kissinger impressions, Nietzschean despair, David Byrne rants and Jane Fonda workout tapes.
The awkwardness was clearly part of Dinner's shtick. After "Going Out," sighing into the mic as he did between every song, he noted that his debut album, Psychic Lovers, had been released the day before — then noted that it sounds like shit and he hates it. He then invited to crowd to tell him that or beat him up at the merch table post-show. Later, he beckoned the crowd closer for the second time, then punished them by making them sit on the notoriously filthy Cobalt floor, playing a quiet song and leading them in a brief meditation. No wonder this guy put out a guided hypnosis tape. It was probably the most hilariously awkward and thoroughly captivating opener I've seen since Adira Amram opened for Kid Koala and the Slew at the Red Room in 2009.
Prince Rama had a lot to live up to following Dinner's shenanigans, and, in their own way, they did. The band gave off more whimsy than a sense of humour, and with Taraka Larson on lead vocals and guitar, Nimai Larson on percussion and backing vocals, and Ryan Sciaino adding keys and guitar, they looked the part of a proper intergalactic pop band. With animals painted on the drum kit, by which Nimai would stand throughout their set, the Larson sisters came out in matching kimonos with black light responsive hot pink and neon green lightning bolt and mesh shawls, while Sciaino had a silver cape (because that's how it's fucking done, synthesists). Yet, despite their fantastical appearance, they seemed to take themselves more seriously than Dinner.
Taraka's voice was modulated to a humorously lower register when she spoke, but her banter often fell a little flat, starting with a bit about how she wasn't smiling and later spending a long time on a story about Nickelback that few seemed interested in. Their best talking moment came when Taraka tried to discuss homecoming, much to the confusion of the Canadian crowd, which ended up with Sciaino namechecking everything he knew about the CFL, and Taraka dedicating "Nevermore" to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, although the story about how they crossed the border so easily this time around that it caused an existential crisis about losing their edge also had its charm.
While their banter was a mixed bag, Prince Rama put it all out there performance-wise. Sciaino looked like he was born of rave magic to do his thing, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who ever looked as though they had as much fun playing drums as Nimai did. She bounced on her toes and tossing her hair as she tapped out her patterns on the kit, her beaming expression lit up by glowing lipstick and eyeshadow.
Taraka commanded attention up front when she sang, dragging a dude in a Breeders shirt onstage to serenade him for "Believe in Something Fun," and knighting people in the front row with her sword, a replica of King Arthur's Excalibur, during "Fantasy." She took real risks too. Just when it seemed nothing truly extreme was going to happen (despite their 2016 album Xtreme Now being partially intended as a soundtrack for the merging of fine art and extreme sports in the year 2067), Taraka took a walk over a sub and a table next to the stage during the seamless transition from "Those Who Live For Love Will Live Forever (channeling I.M.M.O.R.T.A.L.I.F.E.)" to "Your Life In The End." On her way back, she twice attempted to swing to the stage off a rolled-up projector screen that was precariously screwed into the wooden ceiling, taking her life into her hands each time.
Granted, there was some obvious double-tracking going on, supporting their sound with basslines, kicks, vocals, and the like, but their encore left no doubt as to their skill as both entertainers and musicians. Nimai came back out in a bathrobe, bringing a stool for herself to sit on, then invited everyone to sit onstage with them. With the trio all seated comfortably in their white robes, surrounded by their adoring fans, Taraka got everyone to take a deep breath and close their eyes as she feigned beginning to play Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" in honor of the prowess of Canadian pop, then actually jammed out "Shitopia" campfire style, stripped down to a largely acoustic arrangement.
Ultimately, they gave us something fun worth believing in.