Lessons from Friday’s Man Man show: More bands need non-ironic melodicas. Feathers are fun. Bike wheels make great instruments.
If you’ve ever heard the music of the crazed Philadelphia quintet that is Man Man, then there is likely no need for you to read this review. If you at all enjoy the band’s blend of darkly winding melodies, unorthodox rhythms and lead singer Honus Honus’ growling lyrics, you can probably imagine the frenzied cluster of giddy fans, dancing, pushing and generally losing their shit. In fact, you were probably there.
Man Man is touring to promote their newest release, Life Fantastic, which is filled with strong songs that pair nicely with strong drink. The set started with the understated “Feathers,” pulling the audience out of the bar and toward the stage like a pied piper drawing the town’s children closer. Once we were under the spell, Man Man launched into “Hurly Burly.” The raucous dance party ignited by the funky, snarling keys and surf-rock inflected gypsy guitar continued more or less unabated for the rest of the evening.
Now, unabated dance parties are not always desirable. Sometimes they are tiring. Sometimes a band doesn’t have the sonic diversity to maintain two hours of euphoric tumult. Happily, Man Man, with its group of talented multi-instrumentalists and wide stylistic library to draw from, does not bore or tire one, even when one is being inexplicably pushed around by anyone and everyone within six feet of the stage. (Is this a new dance style I'm not hip to yet?) Having feathers blown into the crowd by Honus Honus helps the whimsy and madness along nicely.
In any case, from the surf-y “Piranhas,” the urgently weird “Mr. Jung Stuffed” and the newer tracks, including the sonic whirlwind “Dark Arts” and a sexy Man Man take on the tango, “Haute Tropique,” the show is a non-stop tour of genres, spiced with that special Man Man something. What is this something? It certainly has a lot to do with Honus Honus’ unique vocals, which are alternately dulcet, desperate, seductive and terrifying. The other band members, Pow Pow, Chang Wang, T. Moth and Master Boda (I could give you their real names, but where’s the fun in that?) take on everything from additional glorious keys to saxophones, brass, various percussion pieces (including, I think, a marimba), at least two melodicas and a bike wheel. Man Man are unbelievably energetic—tours are exhausting, and yet the group gave an unflaggingly great performance. It takes a lot to wake up in a new city every day, sigh, redo your face paint and entertain varying degrees of drunks and delinquents night after night. Kudos, guys.
Even the short but languid “Sarsaparilla” couldn’t slow us down—especially when followed by the deliciously schizophrenic “White Rice, Brown Heart.” Contrived as they are, I still love a good encore, and this one didn’t disappoint. There was “Engrish Bwudd,” the song that took my Man Man virginity, the dreamily sad “Life Fantastic” and "Van Helsing Boombox," a crowd-pleaser and classic.
Man Man, in the course of a couple of hours, went from a band for which I only had passing familiarity and a musician’s respect to one that has crawled into my heart and made a bizarre little nest of spiders, feathers and creepy velvet paintings. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(P.S.- Special thanks to the merch guy and members of the band who humored my wanna-be-a-rock-journalist questions, and who helped me escape from the basement of the Venue. Now that was scary.)