Scott at Pretty Goes with Pretty has written insightfully recently about the "cluster of impressions" you often form about a particular artist or band before you've ever heard their music based on the general way other people talk about it (usually reductively, usually in a way that makes you think it's not for you). On a somewhat related note, I had the joy of discovering this weekend what it's actually like to see Man Man perform live, which was so much more interesting than what I'd been assuming it would be like to see Man Man perform live over the past three years that I've been trying to get to one of their shows. Sure, there's the white clothes and the warpaint and the circus pirate Salvation Army band Looney Tunes song structures, but does anybody talk about how smart these guys are? Even when I'd heard a million times over that old chestnut "they're so much better live," I just assumed that was a testament to their energy or insanity or a general anything-goes unpredictability. But I wasn't really prepared--at least until I read Honus Honus's comment in a recent issue of Magnet magazine that his intention was to make the band a musical version of the Jodorowsky film The Holy Mountain--to be confronted with this overwhelmingly intelligent controlling consciousness humming behind and in the spaces between the notes. These dudes know exactly what they're doing, and, three albums and many, many tours into their career, they've gotten absurdly good at doing it. (I was at the early show on Saturday night and have no idea how they were going to do all that again immediately thereafter.)
It's not exactly that they're hiding how smart they are or anything--it's more that their chosen aesthetic allows them to work on two levels simultaneously. The cliched, received-wisdom-about-Man-Man level is the level that allowed all those fourteen-year-old boys to flail around in a mini-mosh pit at the lip of the stage, just buzzed out of their gourds on the electricity in the music and performance. (And let me tell you--I very rarely ever wish I were a fourteen-year-old boy, but I sure as hell did on Saturday night. It would have felt surpassingly awesome to be able to participate, and reciprocate, with the show in that way.) That's the level you expect, the level you can predict. But the second level, the quieter level that you'll never really see until you're present in a room with them when they're doing their thing live on stage is the level that...what? I'm having a hard time even conceptualizing what it is. It's a level of confidence, I suppose--their own confidence that they're in complete control of what they're doing, which in turn gave me as an audience member the confidence to trust them to take me where they were going to take me. (This is the same confidence I felt last summer when I saw of Montreal play for the first time at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and in many ways I think the comparison is apt.)
This confidence also binds together all the disparate elements that compose the standard Man Man talking points (the aforementioned white clothes, warpaint, etc.). When someone starts describing those aspects of their performances, it tends to sound like the most eye-rollingly hipsterrific collection of willfully random yet somehow artsy/pretentious affectations smashed together to give an overall impression of "OMG, crazy!" But it's actually all remarkably, even precisely, balanced in practice, like some sort of exquisitely spiced curry that plays sweetness and heat and savory elements off each other until your primary impression is just "holy fuck, I don't know what this is, but I know I want more of it."
And for as much as I've been enjoying Rabbit Habits this year, the album is almost rendered obsolete by my desire to never listen to their music anymore unless I can hear it live, so overwhelmingly satisfying is the complete live performance package. Almost--because one of the spices in the curry is the fact that these guys are amazing musicians, and, shit, just listen to them play. CTLA and I always become enamored of Chris Funk's proficiency on multiple instruments whenever we see the Decemberists play live, and it's like Man Man has three Chris Funks in the band. The marimba parts, the Django Reinhardt-aping guitar lines, the squawking horns--the casual mastery is thrilling. Plus, of course, Pow Pow is an insanely gifted dervish on the drums and Honus Honus is pure sex, a young Tom Waits soundalike that mightily resembles Jason Schwartzman in The Darjeeling Limited, 'stache and all.
I realize their aesthetic may not be for everyone, and I realize that my attempt to describe what they're doing here is only contributing to the problem, adding to whatever cluster of impressions you've formed around them, but I would seriously encourage you to check out their show if they tour anywhere close to where you live in the near future.
Opener Tim Fite was likewise a welcome surprise, a wonderfully oddball combination of Shockheaded Peter-era Tiger Lillies and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, capable of getting a roomful of hipsters to sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" not just once, but twice in the course of the show. Um, and then he rapped?
The rest of my pictures from the night are posted here.
I also did make it out to that Jamie Lidell/Baby Teeth show at the Metro I was pimping a few weeks back, and it was every bit as fantastic as I was expecting. Baby Teeth played a shitload of new material that sounded awesome, and Lidell's band has indeed tightened up since the beginning of their tour in June. And Jamie's voice is just...wow. "Rope of Sand" always kind of gets ruined for me on the album because of those breathy female ah-ahs that get layered in toward the end of the track, but hearing him sing it live just totally destroyed me in the best way possible. There's a certain point at which this guy is just so talented that it's like he's sneezing diamonds. Pics from that show here.