Athens, Georgia, home of the University, the Bulldogs, the B-52s and REM, is about 70 miles east of Atlanta. It's well beyond Atlanta's sprawling suburbs and is really a town unto itself, a college community with its own rhythms, scenes, and style.
I drove out there today to see the band Prince Rama play. They're wrapping up a tour of the US before heading off to Australia early next year and passed through Athens this evening, and I realized that one of the benefits of being underemployed is I can stay out late on a Sunday and not have to pay the Monday morning consequences. So I drove the 70 miles to the show at a nice little restaurant in Athens called Farm255, just a few doors down from the infamous 40-Watt Club.
A local band called Pretty Bird opened.
For some reason, they made Pretty Bird play outdoors, even though the other bands were allowed to play inside. And like the dog that's not let in the house, they were noisy and unruly, and that's a good thing. They play without instruments except for a couple of drums, over which the members holler and chant and hum, creating their own form of accompaniment.
Tonight was also their CD (actually DVD) release party, something called Put Your Head in the Clouds, a Birdhouse Collection. They were giving them away for free so I got a copy - I'll update this post if there's anything important to report.
Inside, another local Athens band, Bubbly Mommy Gun, opened for Prince Rama. They played mainly instrumental, off-kilter rock with unusual time signatures and instrumentation. For some reason, their idiosyncratic sound reminded me a little of San Francisco's Thinking Fellers Union 282.
Some of their passages almost sounded like nouveau swing, while others channeled some of the quirkier new wave (nouveau vague) of the late 70s and early 80s. My only complaint was that their set was too short.
There is no "prince" in Prince Rama - the band consists of two sisters, Taraka and Nimai Larson. Reportedly, they were raised on a Hare Krishna commune near Gainesville, Florida before attending art school in Boston. Their music mixes psychedelic rock with Middle and Far Eastern elements and occasional chanting, sometimes in Sanskrit.
It was a free show - no admission - but a bucket was passed around to support the band. I contributed (of course), but based on the fuel it took to get from Atlanta to Athens and back, the show wasn't really "free" for me.
The turnout was small, perhaps 50 people, but the audience was invited to come right up in front of the performers (there was no real stage - they played on the floor of the restaurant). But what the crowd lacked in size, they made up for in enthusiasm, bobbing and swaying along with the pulsating music.
For only two musicians, the Larson sisters manage to produce a lot of sound, and the driving rhythms and soaring vocals were even more effective live than I had anticipated. I was glad that I made the drive out to Athens to catch their set, and only wish that they'd drop by Atlanta some time and play The Earl.
So that was my evening in Athens. It wasn't all that difficult getting there and back, but after all it was a Sunday evening and traffic was light (I wouldn't even try the trip on the Saturday of a football game). In all, it makes me wonder why I haven't before.