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Man Man at the Tralf
By Steve Stevenson
So there was that band Man Man. For the last few years you had friends who’d mention that you’d’ve got to’ve checked them out. Maybe you did: the Pitchfork exclusives or the Takeaway Show on Youtube. Maybe you copied their second or third album off someone. And as it turned out, that one friend was right; it was sort of like if Zappa and/or Beefheart did cabaret. And it DID make sense that they were on the same label as Tom Waits. But there’ve been so many distinctive-genre hype wagons out there the last few years that you don’t really notice them floating by anymore. So you might never’ve ended up getting INTO it, per se, et cetera, et cetera.
That same Man Man came to Buffalo on (a Tuesday) July 14 and proved, once and for all, that “yes, we are sort of like if Zappa and/or Beefheart did cabaret, and it totally makes sense that we’re on the same label as Tom Waits, but that flips your switch, baby, so you paid $15 to get in. Enjoy.”
Hailing from probably the (second or third) dirtiest part of Philadelphia, Man Man has been putting on their grotesque carnival since 2003. The core of their vaudeville ruckus comes from Honus Honus on Rhodes and vocals and Pow Pow on drums (I promise those are their real names), cranking out superficially raunchy – though hauntingly endearing – barks about zombies and sad clown stuff.
When they took the stage at the Tralf, the rest of the multi-instrumentalist band consisted of Critter Crat, Chang Wang, and (who appears to be the high school music teacher who introduced the rest of the band to Zappa and/or Beefheart… and LSD) Organ Freeman (you can shoot yourself now or you can read on, the choice is yours). Each band member had at least twelve dozen assorted instruments in front of him: marimbas, glocks, guitars, horns, real horns, percussion, and so on—an impressive array. Unfortunately, the war-painted, hot-pantsed performers instantly subverted the professionalism of the stage-plot.
Now I have to provide a little disclaimer about my journalistic approach: I practice-drank at home before the show. I practice-drank on the walk downtown. I practice-drank two expensive Tralf pitchers with two friends while the band was setting up. But that’s how you do journalism. That’s how it’s done.
Of course, with all of this preparation for the story, I couldn’t be bothered to catch the opener(s?). I’m going to go out on a limb, however, and say that Dali’s Ghost were… good?
But Man Man took the stage around ten, and Honus Honus came out in a fabulous green sequined shirt that almost completely obscured his short, white shorts. He sat to it and played “Doo Right,” a quick piano-and-voice ballad about throwing bricks at the moon, while the soundman slowly got his shit together. The rest of the band joined in for a chunk of songs from their last album, Rabbit Habits: “Hurly Burly,” “Ballad of Butter Beans,” and “Top Drawer.”
Though they’d been floating by in my periphery since their first visit to Buffalo in ’06, I never really started to get into them (i.e., memorize lyrics) until that 2008 release. This was a mistake. Apparently it’s not cool to even mention the band these days, now that their songs are distinguishable, and they’ve probably been on MTV Ocho late at night or something. You goddamn hipster bastards; y’all’re haters.
To a certain extent, Rabbit Habits represents a departure for the group. While Man Man can typically be described as what it would sound like if Zappa and/or Beefheart did cabaret, and they totally fit in on Tom Waits’ label, this album reveals a more prog-oriented group: The beats are harder, the instrumentations are more unconventional, and the group seems to be trading their standard flophouse sleaze for big top rock.
I didn’t catch either of Man Man’s first two Buffalo performances back in the day. They played the short-lived Kitchen Distribution space, an abandoned warehouse run and frequented by collegiate hipsters and artists. They also played the scumgeon dive Mohawk Place for, from what I hear, a room of bike punks and the foulest resultant stench imaginable. That was their Man in the Blue Turban with a Face/Six Demon Bag heyday. The indistinguishable sets, still-cool-to-talk-about days.
At the Tralf, they didn’t get into anything off of Six Demon Bag until about a half dozen songs in. This was a different type of room, though. The Tralf is clean, colorful, the drinks are expensive, and the guy at the door isn’t a friend of a friend of yours and he WILL fuck you up. Looking around, the clientele was different, too. Lots of college and even high school kids – and not, like, pulse-taking scenester kids; lots of cargo shorts and black, generic-band tees, in groups of guys. I wondered if and simultaneously knew that this was the face of the Rabbit Habit departure.
Even so, they’ve got a crowd, they play better than ever, and it was entertaining as fuck. If you have a chance to check them, and you hate your friends that wear tight pants, do it. Just don’t tell those friends. They only pretend to dig Zappa, Beefheart, and Waits in years it’s cool to do so anyway.
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