Man Man Fitzgerald's May 3, 2011
Two things seemed instantaneously odd as Philadelphia's Man Man took the Fitzgerald's stage Tuesday night. First, the usually packed venue wasn't sold out; in fact, the upstairs balcony wasn't even open. Considering Man Man's steady buzz among the '00s indie scene, it was curiously off-putting.
Second, the band wasn't dressed in their usual all-white get-up. In fact, front man Ryan Kattner, who goes by the stage moniker Honus Honus, looked like a conventional frat guy, mustached and in a plaid button-down, white denim shorts, and boat shoes. But Man Man did sport their trademark white war-face-paint, a trend evidently adopted by their most eager fans.
The stage looked like a flea marketer's dream, illuminated by white twinkle lights, with trinkets including a television, bicycle, and catcher's mask hanging from each and every angle and instrument.
The band opened with "Feathers," an stormy track from 2006's Six Demon Bag, before delving into a stream of new material from their forthcoming fourth album Life Fantastic (out next week), including "Piranhas Club" and Bangkok Necktie."
Honus Honus sat at his piano directly facing drummer/percussionist Chris Powell (aka Pow Pow), the duo feeding off each other throughout the set. Man Man earned their "experimental rock" label thanks to their imaginative use of instruments; trumpet, saxophone, xylophone, melodica, and various percussive instruments - as in metal bowls and empty plastic water coolers - were all played during their set.
Honus Honus seemed an unlikely pianist, frenzied and active as he banged thekeys, like a confined zoo animal or A.D.D.-ridden child. He momentarily left the stage only to return wearing a shimmering trenchcoat, curled ribbon overflowing from its pockets which he, of course, threw on the crowd.
Fans were well-versed in the band's four-album discography, singing along with matched familiarity as Man Man revisited 2008's Rabbit Habits with "Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos" and their 2004 debut, The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face, with "10lb Moustache."
Man Man held our attention all night, revealing glimmers of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart in their kitschy style; they are undeniably quirky and their music is sometimes circus-like, but they maintain a focused, creative professionalism that prevents them from being pigeonholed into that blacklisted "joke-rock" genre.
After closer "White Rice, Brown Heart," the band left the stage, their only, and we mean only, break of the entire evening; they didn't so much as stop to say "Thanks" or regroup between songs.
Their encore maintained the band's unwritten yet signature no-banter statute, speeding through seven songs, including Life Fantastic's "Oh, La Brea" and Six Demon Bag's "Spider Cider," ultimately closing with "Van Helsing Boombox."
Afterward, Honus Honus stood up, bowing and curtseying to the crowd, shaking the hands of the front row's face-painted fans. Staying true to his foregoing mum demeanor, he proved those motions were his thanks; he and the band left the stage with no further adieu.
Personal Bias: Man Man's live performances eclipse their recordings. We were lucky to see them at Fitz; many elements of their show could be overlooked on a larger stage or before a festival crowd.
The Crowd: Sparser than it should have been, but filled with true Man Man fans.
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Overheard in the Crowd: "I'm disease-free!"
Random Notebook Dump: Did anyone purchase those Man Man footed pajamas at the merch booth? Please say yes.