Some bands, you have to see to believe. Philadelphia’s self-described “Viking vaudeville” act Man Man already have a strange and eclectic array of instruments, with singer/keyboardist Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) and drummer Pow Pow (Christopher Powell) up front, while such instruments as guitar and saxophone are relegated to the back tier. Their songs embrace percussion and a dramatic darkness that can mock that very shade. And that’s just the start of the craziness live, like at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday, February 2nd.
The show was actually moved to Music Hall (QRO venue review) from Rough Trade NYC, the new record store-cum-venue that only had a few shows last December (QRO review of one) before noise complaints from the neighbors forced a reboot – a reboot that still seems to be happening, with shows still being announced there, only later to be moved (or cancelled). Presumably acts keep booking the place because it’s from U.K. label and major London indie record store Rough Trade, but at some point the place either has to open for concerts or give up the ghost.
And Man Man can bring noise complaints to anywhere. While the line-up around Honus & Pow have approached double digits at times, currently they’re down to just a four-piece, with Shono (Bryan Murphy) and Brown Sugar (Adam Schatz – QRO interview) manning various instruments behind the pair. The show is largely Honus’ at the beginning, as he bounds around the stage in various costumes – Williamsburg saw a glittery cape & cowl, fur coat, alien mask (which, with his long black hair, made Honus look more Predator than Alien), and more, all over his long black mustache and crazed look, like Dave Grohl’s younger, actually wild cousin. Oh, and all four members were in skeleton bodysuits (a-la Hannah Hooper of Grouplove – QRO photos).
The set was naturally weighted towards their most recent record, last year’s On Oni Pond (QRO review), and away from the prior Life Fantastic (QRO review), but the group also drew on earlier material, especially later in the evening. Highlights of the main set included the open of Oni’s “End Boss” and “Top Drawer” from Rabbit Habits (QRO review), another Oni–Rabbit one-two in “Loot My Body”-“Mister Jung Stuffed”, plus opening lady Xenia Rubinos coming out (in her own skeleton bodysuit) for Oni’s “Pink Wonton”, “Head On”, and “King Shiv”. For the encore return, Pow got to take the mike (with Shono on drums) for Rabbit’s “El Azteca”, leading into raucous renditions of the particularly wild “Bangkok Necktie” (the only Fantastic number on the night), Oni’s “Sparks”, and sea shanty “Engrish Bwudd” from 2004 debut The Man In the Blue Turban With a Face, before the long “Werewolf (On the Hood of Yer Heartbreak)” and the short “Young Einstein On the Beach” ended the night.
To go with the wildness on the stage, there was naturally wildness in the crowd, more chaos than a mosh pit. This included crowdsurfing, which meant that fans sometimes ended up on the stage. The best were those who went up and very quickly left (rather than running back or going anywhere near the many instruments on stage), by just falling into the crowd rather than jumping (one guy tried to do a mid-air somersault and landed particularly hard). The band mostly enjoyed it (including Shono surfing while on horn near the end of the night), but there were times it seemed strained, like when one fan was on stage for his second time, another got crowd-surfed to the stage, and a third inexplicably decided that this would be a good time to hop onto the stage himself. During one breakdown, Sugar stepped forward between Honus & Pow on sax, only to have a girl end up on stage; Sugar either motioned towards her or motioned her to leave while blowing his horn. But no one was ever hurt, and security never made a heavy presence – and that’s despite the (unsurprising) number of people surreptitiously smoking weed in a venue where you can’t even lit up a cigarette. More surprising was the high percentage of women at the Man Man show, no pun intended, as the band’s music brings to mind the all-male crews who sailed the seven seas.
All musical acts are either better on album or live, and Man Man certainly lean towards the live, but that’s not to knock their recorded output. It’s just that they’re someone you have to see live to truly believe.