Prince Rama w/ Catacombz and Moss Folk @ Mad Planet
Last year’s Top Ten Hits of the End of the World, the latest from Brooklyn sister duo Prince Rama, came with a pretty high concept attached, namely that it wasn’t an album by the band at all, but a compilation of 10 imaginary bands. It’s a gimmick that doesn’t really hold water mostly because, while there are some diverse styles on the disk—from deep psych grooves to apocalyptic dance floor bangers—they’re all filtered through the band’s signature Day-Glo aesthetic to the point where no one would ever mistake them for various artists. But even if it has some flaws as a concept album, as just a plain old album it’s a real pleasure, and one which, despites some difficulties, the band brought to vivid life Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s two local openers, Moss Folk and Catacombz, were perfect choices as warm-up acts, ideally suited to the lysergic vibes of the headliner. Moss Folk are less a band and more a loose collective of likeminded musicians, led by multi-instrumentalist and Milwaukee Psych Fest organizer Andrew Shelp. Specializing in looping effect-laden, ethereal guitar into heady, ambient soundscapes, he often performs solo, sometimes with varying configurations, but tonight he played along with a percussionist, who did a good job of giving all the drones a little backbone and keeping things moving forward. The music owes a large debt to a great many cosmic krautrock acts of the ’60s and ’70s, but if they’re a bit derivative, they do it well, and create an interesting atmosphere with lights and projections.
Moss Folk got off to a late start, mainly because they were waiting for people to turn up (a sadly common club show occurrence), but circumstances kept conspiring to slow things down, especially some persistent sound problems that got local hard psych staples Catacombz’s set off to a rocky start. They quickly recovered though, especially for a band who’ve played out only once in the last few months and were debuting quite a bit of fresh material. The band’s been around a while now, and the new songs find them trying new things, trading in some of their expansiveness in favor of tightening up the song structure and pushing the vocals to the forefront. It’s an interesting progression, a welcome shakeup, but they succeed, as before, thanks to their airtight musicianship.
Another prolonged wait preceded Prince Rama, and a lot of the crowd foolishly called it a night. Their set began with Taraka Larson eerily circling the dance floor on Andrew Shelp’s shoulders, draped in a flowing white veil, after which she and sister Nimai hopped behind the synth and drums respectively and lit up a sensational set that covered most of the Top Ten Hits of the World and a few other deep cuts of demented neo-post-disco. They’ve got an unforgettable style and stage presence, like high priestesses of some cargo cult founded on house 12-inches and discarded bits of glammy ’80s fashions—with tunes to match. They should have started before midnight, and the continuing sound problems took their toll, but their performance was nonetheless worth losing some sleep over.