Man Man (the band band) knows how to turn a concert into a party. Last Tuesday night, their skeleton costumes, endless musical-instrument-chairs, and incessant physical engagement with the crowd transformed The Grey Eagle into a steaming dance fest. Touring in support of their new album, On Oni Pond, the Philadelphia quartet put on a two-hour show, performing music from their entire 10-year career. They opened with the stuttering, slippery mid-tempo groove, “End Boss,” screaming the chorus “If you won’t invent yourself, you can’t circumvent your hell,” before burning into one of the intense circus/ska highlights from Rabbit Habbits, “Top Drawer.”
Honus Honus (lead singer, electric pianist and general ring-leader of the madness) propelled the band through a set of mostly up-tempo numbers, pausing only briefly between tunes. Tightly constructed and immaculately well-rehearsed, Man Man poured through feel changes and instrument switches like it was no big thing. New members Shono Murphy and Adam Schatz both played electric guitars, basses, synths and percussion. Additionally, as Schatz played bass lines on a tenor sax, Murphy ripped high altitude solos on trumpet. Placing his drum kit directly in the front of the stage, face-to-face with Honus Honus’s Rhodes electric piano, core-Man Man member Pow Pow played a much more active role in getting the audience dancing than most drummers. As Honus Honus jumped and skittered across the stage, Pow Pow made sure the crowd kept its clapping in time.
Even as they explored their entire catalog, Man Man emphasized new material, breaking from their own performance standards by allowing Honus Honus to sing most of the new songs standing up, running around the stage, and interacting with the crowd. This was not the sit-down piano-led rock band of yesteryear, but a whole new approach to Man Man’s sound. “Pink Wonton,” “Loot My Body,” and “Paul’s Grotesque” excited a crowd well-versed in the new material, while the first single from the record, the pop-friendly ballad “Head On,” got everyone singing “Hold on to your heart, never let nobody take it over.”
Though the non-stop show seemed to be over at about the 75-minute mark, the band returned for a six-song encore. The encore started with Pow Pow taking up the mic and singing through some type of vocoder/synth effect. Shono Murphy, who’d been the band’s primary guitarist, laid down a tight jungle beat on the kit, while Pow Pow jumped around. Before anybody could get too comfortable with Man Man’s show, it was over. A pitched-down dub of Madonna singing “Into the Groove,” so that the beat was all slinky and mid-tempo and the diva’s voice sounded nearly manly, came on over the house stereo as the band marched off stage. Oddly, the concert began and ended with ’80s hits over the house system — the first was Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Photo from the band’s Instagram