Man Man @ The Independent, 10/3/06
I have a soft spot for bands that play a lot of instruments. I knew that the Man Man show was going to be entertaining when during the second song, the guitarist put down the sticks with which he was also playing xylophone, and picked up a trumpet. My first clue that the show would be special was when I saw one band member painstakingly positioning a stuffed jackalope next to the drum set. These were professionals.
All five band members drummed at different times in the set, sometimes all at once. The bass player also played a harmonium and a recorder. The lead singer mostly played keyboards, though he had drumsticks. He also provided the most dramatic moment of the concert when he stood on a bench and dramatically played an improvised percussion instrument: a handful of spoons that he threw as hard as he could into a small metal bowl. The bowl wasn't miked, so the effect was essentially inaudible, but it was quite exciting to watch. Other instruments played by the band included a metal pot, a harmonium, a toy keyboard, a French horn, two different saxophones, a glockenspiel, plastic noisemakers, and this thing that was probably some kind of horn, but honestly looked like a glass bong.
Man Man's stage arrangement helped keep the energy up. They crowded all of their instruments as close to one another as possible, and the whole arrangment was pushed up to the edge of the stage, right next to the audience. The band members didn't speak at all between songs, and seemed to communciate with each other via head nods and pointed glances. There was highly coordinated jumping, dancing, and seamless position changes.
The average break between songs was 3/4 of a second. Every band member wore head-to-toe white, though each brought their own flair to the look. The lead singer wore cut off white jeans and a polo shirt. One guy had a tank top and white jeans. 60% of the band wore headbands. The guitarist had a two-month-long beard and a headband with the rising sun on it. 80% of the band has ridiculous facial hair.
The downside of Man Man was that while the performance was memorable, the songs really weren't. It's now about two hours since they left the stage, and I can hardly remember what the songs sounded like. I remember that some of the lyrics sounded like gibberish, and the frantic drumming, and that the band began one song by meowing in unison, but little else about the melodies. However, that might be because I didn't know their music going in. I'm certainly going to check out their collection now, but I don't know if it will compare to the madcap, near-psychotic energy of the live show.
A quick word on the crowd. Four middle-aged African-American women attended the show in full-on Geisha gear - kimonos, black wigs, face paint, and chopsticks in their hair. They pushed up to the front and seemed to know all the songs - jumping at the same time as the band members, singing along, and generally rocking the fuck out. I have no idea why they were dressed this way for Man Man, but online research indicates that this was the Urban Geisha Revenge. There were also two audience members waving peacock feathers. Again, no idea, but it didn't seem out of place.
The opening band really sucked. Even their name sucks: The Pink Mountaintops. They had seven members, but only played about 30% of the instruments that Man Man did with their five guys. Appropriately, they displayed roughly 3% of the energy of Man Man. One girl stood at the side, swayed, sang inaudible backup vocals, and played hand-held percussion instruments in the exact same rhythmn for every song. Maybe this is sexist, but we both assumed she was someone's girlfriend. The other girl had different hand-held percussion instruments, and added inaudible "lead" vocals on one song. They had a second drummer who faced away from the audience the whole time, but banged his head like Animal. Drummer #2 might well have been homeless. During zero songs was the extra drummer even remotely justified. There was a ghastly smoke machine that coughed up huge clouds of smoke at unpredictable intervals. The rhythmn guitarist looked like a roadie who no one had bothered to kick off stage. I was pretty sure they were all really stoned, but I can't discount the possibility that they realized how bad they suck, and the self-awareness was crippling.
In a way, the Pink Mountaintops were a wonderful band, because making fun of them with my friend JD gave me a lot more joy than their aggressively mediocre music gave me pain. The lead singer sang with vocal inflections that evoked a heroin-addicted Conor Oberst attempting a Cockney accent. JD asked where I thought he was from, and I replied, "Indie-ana." JD didn't have a specific guess, but he theorized that the band came from "somewhere incredibly depressing". When they finished their last song, no one realized they were done for a couple of seconds. Then the crowd replied with applause that was, if possible, even more half-assed than the Pink Mountaintops' playing.