Man Man attacks their live shows with a frenetic energy that can only come from doing elaborate campfire dances with mischievous, vaguely anthropomorphic pagan deities clad in sparkly athletic gear. They rock classic white tennis outfits, feathers, and war paint. They play without pausing to take a breath. They sound like a pirate invasion, an electroclash polka, an orchestra turned party turned interplanetary zoo. Gravelly-voiced vocalist and resident wild man Honus Honus howls over melodic sax swells, tribal rhythms, high-pitched refrains, creating a cavalcade of sound that wields plenty of skill to match the spectacle.
Not about to pass this up, we braved the hot, humid New York City summer afternoon to trek past tangles of bodegas and looming public housing mazes and out to an isolated bandstand on the East River for a concert courtesy of the City Parks Concerts Festival. If you got lost along the way and missed the show, or simply want to relive the delirious excitement, we've got you covered. - Nina Mashurova
Before the beginning...
Before the world came into existence, all was a chaos, unimaginably limitless and without shape or form. Eon followed eon, particle became mass: then, lo! out of this boundless, shapeless mass something light and transparent rose up and formed the heavens. And from the heavens fell five shapes, loud and heavy and jumbled, and from these rough forms were shaped and sculpted the first firsts: Honus Honus (the High-August-First-Voice), Sergei Sogay (the Divine-Center-of-Four-Strings), Pow Pow (the August-Beat-Divinity), Critter Crat (the Divine-Twang-and-Everything-Else) and Chang Wang (the Other-Twang-and-Wondrous-Everything-Else).
And they set out to fill the yawning void that gripped the earth, and they crammed the emptiness with sounds, of voices and guitars and drums, yes; but also with squeaky toys and pots and spoons and cap guns and chopsticks and old shoes and fruit and stuffed frogs. And such was their exuberant good time, and such was the mess they made, that they did not see their jealous creator, envious of their ingenuity and novelty items, sneaking up on their ebullient pandemonium and casting them out...
In their lost divinity, Man Man took up residence in Philadelphia, perhaps because of the Sweet Philly sound, Noam Chomsky, the water Sun Ra was drinking, Charles Barkley's elbows, the excellence of the Philly lacrosse team or Rocky or Betsy Ross or John Coltrane. Or maybe it was it's close proximity to south Jersey.
Never you mind. The point is, Man Man keeps on keeping on, filling the blankness with their weird/beautiful, esoteric/heart-rending, profound/hilarious sounds. There is so much lovely commotion to be made, Man Man famously does not break between songs during their live shows, but rather moves, revolving-door fashion, from one song to another, commandeering and discarding any of number of the instruments lying at their feet as the mood strikes and the music dictates.
Comparisons to the usual avant-garde forefathers - Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits - persist, but Man Man are decidedly not identity thieving or even overtly referencing these spiritual godfathers in their music, but rather are acting as torchbearers of the unusual, the spontaneous and the plainly fucking funny in an increasingly homogenized world. "I'm just making the songs I know how to write," says Honus. "The one thing I want to clarify is that this is an organic project -- who we are, the kind of lives we lived before we met each other, and the lives we have together. [That's] what makes this band and this music what it is. I would say being broke is one of my biggest influences. That and being in and out of relationships. Those are bigger influences than listening to a Beefheart record."
Indeed, it would be a mistake to write off Man Man as simply "experimental," "psychedelic" or even "jokesy," for they are some, but mostly none, of that. Their music is clearly rooted in rock, blues and pop, and they can really play all those instruments. A long list of the most successful, accessible and accomplished indie rock bands working today - think Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, Cat Power - have asked Man Man on tour. At a Man Man show, one might see a hipster chaining up a fixie out front, a gaggle of high school kids with a genuine "Lord of the Flies/Peter Pan's Lost Boy's" fire in their eyes, some hippie old-timers, still in it to win it. The scope of their appeal attests to Man Man's genuine abilities and the palpable emotion of the music.
With Rabbit Habits, their Anti- Records debut, and the natural extension of their body of work begun with The Man In A Blue Turban With A Face and continued with Six Demon Bag, Man Man bring their incomparable vision to bear. Successfully capturing the raw spirit and essence of a Man Man live show, Rabbit Habits is the end product of the efforts of a band who are earnestly saying something important, even if you can't always make out the words over the blare of the sousaphone.