Album Review: Man Man

Man Man – Self-titled EP
(2004, Ace Fu Records)

I got to see Philadelphia’s Man Man at New York’s Mercury Lounge in 2004.* Their set was a spectacle — everyone on stage was an excellent player, each attending to his own intricate part, but together producing an atmosphere of chaos. There was a badass drummer, bass, Farfisa organ, baritone guitar, Rhodes piano, trumpet, vocals, yelling. Everyone also switched on and off playing various types of percussion, so in addition to the drummer at least one other person was at all times beating on something or other. It was intense.

The music was, to quote my notes from the time, Mr. Bungleish/Critters Bugginish whacked out carnival music played by virtuosos, with singer Honus Honus sounding like Isaac Brock (when he screams) and Tom Waits or Jason Webley (the rest of the time).

That’s my memory of their live show seven years ago, and now listening to this 3-song EP, the description probably applies, though the energy of the live show doesn’t entirely translate (does it ever?). The recording is very good though, without a lot in the way of studio effects — it sounds pretty live, with the drums mixed loud and heavy (which helps). The studio treatment allowed the band to use some elements that I don’t recall seeing live: namely strings, and what sounds like a pack of children singing or yelling, used to very cool effect (but not so easy to take on tour).

There are only three songs, kind of short for an EP. These happen also to be the first three songs on their 2004 album The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face. Here’s the second song, “10 lb Moustache” (hat tip to Ace Fu’s website for the download):

ManMan – 10 lb Moustache

Man Man are still around and quite successful, releasing three albums after Turban, the last two on ANTI-. You can stream some of their newer tracks at manmanbandband.com.

* Technically, I played at this show as well. But I learned something about playing a venue gig in New York City when nobody knows who you are, and that is, not to. New Yorkers seem to go to shows to see specific artists (the venues I was at all practiced “door polling”) starting at specific times (they were strict about the schedule). The crowd for the band before me left long before I was on, and a whole different crowd appeared for the band after.

That was my experience at least, and I suspect it’s because NYC has so many entertainment options that most people can find better things to do than see something unknown and potentially lame. It’s odd though, as the opposite is true of NYC open mics, which seem to be hugely popular. I had a much better audience when I did one of those.

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