I first heard about Gang Gang Dance on a Greyhound bus, headed to Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival. One of the many people I met along the way recommended the band, and although I didn’t get to see them in Chicago, I trusted this semi-stranger’s judgment enough to give it a try last week in Madison – It’s a Greyhound thing. What I discovered was not what I expected, but with a group like Gang Gang, how could it have been?
The music you can find online or on their albums is utterly ethereal with composite works of varying sounds and rhythms. It’s hippie-reminiscent, but takes that ideology and inverts it for a more futuristic experience.
The first thing that caught me by surprise was one member coming onstage, giving the distinct impression that he just woke up. He reminded me of the oddball younger brother in a large family who’s just along for the ride, and seemed to be assigned the job of backup dancer and publicist (he had a handheld video recorder he’d pull out every now and then). To say the least, he detracted some energy from a show that otherwise had good pacing. However, his two main “props” – a large drum and crown-shaped tumbleweed he would hold up in quasi-worship of captivating lead singer Lizzi Bougatsos – kept my interest and attention the whole show. I really wanted to know the backstory behind those, especially the tumbleweed, which must surely have been metaphoric for the band’s nomadic lifestyle, if nothing else.
I mentioned the pacing before; its inconsistence gave off a predestined feeling – like the ebb and flow of life. With the genre that Gang Gang Dance has created for itself, it was almost better the audience couldn’t tell where the artists’ music was going next.
Both string players, especially the mustachioed one, were visibly into the performance. And, yes, that opinion was held even before they initiated an impromptu PBR beer giveaway mid-encore. Clearly, the Majestic’s tagline – “beer tastes better in the front row” – holds true, because audience-members went wild.
Overall, Gang Gang Dance was an invigorating experience, but the energy wasn’t all there. I like when a band leaves it all onstage, which didn’t happen that night. Maybe the problem was that the group didn’t see it as a “big performance,” which is a shame because the Madison audiences I know deserve better.
I’m going to close here with some thoughts on the concert’s opener, Prince Rama. People in the audience seemed to connect with the two female members of Prince Rama and their quirky, awkwardly funny quips. I appreciated the lead singer smiling at individual people. I was glad when she finally picked up a guitar, and she also impressed me with her vocals; it would have been easy to often go off key with the wild, elongated notes in their songs, but she didn’t, even sustaining her perfect pitch at one point when a guitar tipped over.
The group’s act seemed overchoreographed in places, and the handmade David Bowie meets H&M outfits were a little out there. If I were styling the band, I might recommend a more organic look, or as a standby that it try out the styles achieved by Gang Gang Dance’s Bougatsos: a jauntily ripped, off-the-shoulder Ghostface Killa t-shirt and bubble print leggings.
By far the best song of the opening act “Trust.” By just giving it a listen on your own you’ll know why, but even then the live performance was incomparable. The duo began with a whispered chant of “trust, trust, trust” – perhaps akin to the sisters’ Hare Krishna commune upbringings – and then the lead singer started to walk slowly up stage. Thank goodness other people caught onto the idea that she’d be doing a “trust fall” because I certainly couldn’t have held her up myself if it had come down to that. The song was good enough on its own that it didn’t really need a gimmick, but, regardless, it was pretty entertaining.
Prince Rama is still in its opener-band stage, but it’s a really good opener, especially by the end – the two women really built up their performance constructively as time went on. And even if Gang Gang Dance didn’t quite give it all they had, it was still a good, unpredictable time.