You know you’re at a show with a decent amount of energy when the singer and the guitarists jump and dance around on stage. You know you’re at a show with an amazing amount of energy when the drummer jumps and dances around on stage. Hyperkinetic experimental rockers Man Man put one one such show at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, joined by the incomparable Xenia Rubinos. Brilliant, engaging music coupled with riveting stage presence led to an unforgettable night of unusual music.
The show began with a wonderfully stripped down performance from Brooklyn’s very own Xenia Rubinos. Mixing poetry with looping vocals, chirping synths and frenetic beats from drummer Marco Buccelli, Rubinos set the tone for the Man Man show perfectly. Playing a short, intense set, Rubinos was never more compelling than when she’d settle into an almost hypnotic pattern of repeating lyrics, building slowly on the verses until finally releasing into the chorus. Rapidly switching between Spanish and English, between gentle lullabies and scattered free verse, from ricocheting drum beats to sleepy keys, Xenia Rubinos kept the audience guessing about what would be next. Her music, while off-beat, was warm and funny. If you have the opportunity to catch one of her shows, I wholeheartedly recommend the experience.
Following Rubinos’ warmup, Man Man took the stage to riotous applause. Clad in white shirts and red pants or shorts, the band lead the show with “Pink Wonton.” Front man Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) spent the early part of their set seated and facing drummer Pow Pow (Christopher Powell). This unconventional stage blocking underscored the great chemistry between the two faces of the band. It also gave Honus the opportunity to make funny faces at people along the sides of the stage, taking every opportunity to do so.
Joined by bandmates T. Moth, Brown Sugar and Shono Murphy, Honus kicked into the bombastic “Loot My Body” and lead off a series of their familiar blend of chipper alt-pop songs, somber ballads and delightfully sleazy jazz-inspired numbers. When Honus wasn’t seated at his own keyboard, he was strutting the stage with wild abandon, frantically dancing and mugging for the audience. He frequently changed costumes, including an eerie alien mask and a cruise ship captain inspired outfit. The less said about the mumu the better.
Throughout the show, Man Man rolled out a number of unusual instruments, including a melodica, a xylophone and a frying pan. Rather than being gimmicky, the unconventional instrumentation fit with the songs; I can’t imagine “Hurly/Burly” without the clattering of pots and the shrill car horns.
During the show, Rubios returned to the stage to join Honus and the rest of Man Man for a spirited duet. Man Man clearly picked a well suited supporting act; she and Honus sounded excellent together.
The concert was primarily in support of their newest full length album, On Oni Pond, playing eight songs from the record, including their lead single “Head On.” On Oni Pond represents an exciting sign for the band, a continuation of 2011’s mature and accessible Life Fantastic. That isn’t to say Man Man skimped on old classics, rolling out crowd favorites “Piranhas Club” and “Rabbit Habits.” However, their setlist is a clear indication that the evolution of their sound is here to stay.
After concluding their main set with a thrilling rendition of “Born Tight”, Honus Honus returned to the stage for a stripped down ukulele performance of Deep Cover. Regularly admonishing the audience that clapping would screw him up, the sudden change from a hyperkenetic bounce-fest to standing stock-still, playing a tiny guitar in a spotlight utterly enraptured the audience. It was a wonderful moment that lead well into the return of the rest of the band to close out the set with a handful of deep cuts from their back catalogue.
More than anything else this evening, I was surprised by the crowd that Man Man drew. Before the show I had the opportunity to speak to a few very spirited fans, who had seen the band a half dozen times and wanted to see a half dozen more. They insisted that promise to I give the show a good review, though journalistic integrity prevented me from making that promise. Once the show got underway, the crowd became surprisingly energetic for such an indie, experimental act. I was surprised to be jostled by an enthusiastic group of dancers, pushing and slamming into one another. It never quite got to “mosh” levels of collision, but it was still an unexpected aspect of the concert.
Ultimately, Man Man has cemented themselves as a band that you must see live. Regardless of if their specific music styling is to your liking (excellent as it may be) the showmanship and stagecraft of one of their performances is riveting without being overwrought. It’s truly an experience you can’t pass up. While I couldn’t promise that pack of Man Man fans I’d give the band a glowing review sight unseen, I can gladly give them a hearty endorsement on their own merits.
All photos © 2013 Mitchell Kocen.