Friday, November 2, 2007

Makes the Dream Work

Walking into a Man Man concert unprepared is like going to a carnival, equal parts disconcerting and beautiful, where the organ has been commandeered by the craziest mother fuckers you have ever met. Walking into a Man Man show is like taking a filter that steps up the crazy, the weird, and the loud and using it on Captain Beefheart and his Magic Pirate Band. Walking into a Man Man show might be one of the best decisions you make this holiday season. But I've written about walking into a Man Man concert before. And this isn't about seeing Man Man. This is about telling people about seeing Man Man.

Ever since that night in Austin, where I was converted by a chance wandering into a club show, I've been convincing friends that they need to see this band. Not even that they need to hear this band, which I wholly support and even enable, but seeing this band. I've used all kinds of words in the process of dancing about the utterly bizarre, angular, organic, Zombie-Frank Gehry-on-acid that is Man Man's sound, but it usually comes down to this: if you go, you will have one hell of a time. At the very least, you won't be bored.

As luck and scheduling would have it, I've only seen Man Man twice - both medium sized clubs, both ending in "-mo's." Seeing as they're set to be taken on tour with Modest Mouse, it's looking less likely that I'm going to get a repeat of that. Well, maybe the naming scheme. I'm not concerned with Man Man getting bigger, I'm glad they're getting this shot and I think they deserve it. I was similarly stoked on the role they played in Weeds, not just because it got them some more fans but because at least my students can get that cultural referece. Tom Waits hits blank stares. Don't ask about Captain Beefheart.


Like I said, I'm not sad about them getting bigger, well, maybe I am a little bit, but that's only because of a separate issue that's only partially related to every other music blogger losing "his band" post that I don't want this to be. Not just to bring Kevin Durant into my third of three posts, but I watched his NBA debut the same night I read this news, and I have to wonder: what's going to happen to Man Man when they step onto their over-stretched analogy of a pro court? Even if the tour is mostly taking them through Canada and states that Democrats habitually avoid in general elections, they're still playing venues large enough for Modest Mouse sized crowds in the post "Float On" era.

Man Man is a band with a lot of strengths. Their musicianship, their songwriting, a vocalist with swagger to his gravel, an affinity for kitchen appliance based percussion. But more than any of these, they're a live band in an era where there aren't many left. Dan Bejar, when performing as/with Destroyer, doesn't talk when he breaks between songs, but performs them all fantastically. I'd list more examples, but they'd be superfluous when even the best of the rest (Ted Leo) is a testament to one man's force of nature as an individual performer in a band of experiential footnotes. Man Man is a group effort. From the coordinated outfits to the non-verbal give-and-take through the continuous set, every move is purposeful, adding something more to not just the songs, the show. Where most bands would make this a gimmick, Man Man makes it work. In a set where they just. don't. stop., let alone banter with the audience, they build a connection with them. The music is chaos, but it's all orchestrated, and the audience becomes a part of it all.

Is it going to take some time for Man Man to adjust to life on the big stage? Or playing as an opener again, instead of a destination point for a small but fanatic base? And now a new label, on top of it all? Sure, but Man Man is a band that hasn't stopped surprising me yet. After their live set, we thought they couldn't be captured in a studio. After I heard Six Demon Bag, I thought they'd found their niche and might not keep getting better. But between their cover of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind" (available on their Myspace) which manages to feel true to the original and the band's sound at the same time, and the new live track circling the internet, "Zombies," that pairs the junk band pirate shanty rhythms of Six Demon Bag with free jazz horn parts, I can only believe that this band has more places to explore than most of us can even imagine. I'm hoping that Man Man brings their A game to these sets, and I hope the Modest Mouse fans listen through it bewildered, enraptured, and intrigued. Exactly like I was.

I believe this can happen, because I believe in Man Man.

1 comment:

Brendo said...

Man Man's live show is the best showcase for their consitency of vision, all the Beefheartiness and Waitsisms of their most self-indulgent are the little details. "Controlled chaos" is dismissive and totally innaproporiate- there is nothing unplanned about how their meticulous dance from intrument to instrument and back again mid-set (and often mid-song!)

Their lack of spontentaity is their greatest asset, the way a boxer will train for extreme repetition in movement ways possible to ensure that no matter how much they finesse and flex and move in the fight, their straight jab is always their most effective and most-used tool.

October of last year, in Lubbock, Texas, Man2 played to around 30 people on a Wednesday and they were a machine. When they had played near entirely all of their album material, they finished the set with a 3 second blast of dissonant, percussive, forceful noise and left the stage. We naturally demanded that they return, and they obliged with "I'd Rather Go Blind." And then, with the last lovely, melodic keys barely lingering in the air, they repeated their shrill paroxysm and departed again.

So went the next TWO encores ("Van Helsing Boombox" and "Ice Dogs" respectively), and each ended with the same disquieting 3 bar coda, performed identically every single time without change, but for Honus Honus' departing words when they had no songs left to play for the little group screaming for them in that passed 90 minutes: "Thanks."

I think they appreciated that we noticed.