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Down With The Tribe

Man Man, The Ottobar, March 4

Jefferson Jackson Steele
THE SMELL OF THE GREASEPAINT...: Man Man goes ape at the Ottobar.

By Jared T. Fischer | Posted 3/12/2008

The Philadelphia quintet Man Man--whose genius mess of world music, theatrical spazzcore, club beats, and neo-psychedelic jams continues to receive a ton of hype--began its latest tour in Charm City last week, playing for a packed house. Flooding the club was a mixed sea of artsy, underage couples pushing to the front; slightly older, muscular punks downing beers; college types; and a few hip parents--more interested in the music than chaperoning--all giving off a hot sweat.

Seeing drummer Pow Pow (Christopher Powell) in action was reason enough to leave home. In addition to Man Man, his trebly cymbals and happy-go-lucky punk/jazz dynamic grace the recordings of no longer active Need New Body and Icy Demons. It's hard to think of another weeknight show for which that many fans of all ages would smilingly show up with printed tickets in hand.

Judging by the number of people who could mouth the guttural ballads of lead singer/pianist Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) or join in on the Lilliputian screeches and creepy refrains of band members Sergei Sogay, Chang Wang, and Critter Crat, the audience mostly knew what it was in for. Without taking any breaks between songs, Man Man slapped the audience with a barrage of post-Captain Beefheart irony, onstage lunacy, and punk and funk freakouts. And, of course, the band members wore their signature white T-shirts, shorts, and war paint.

The quintet played a mix of stringed instruments, brass, and keyboards, and each member had a microphone and at least two or three percussive items to whack spastically with drumsticks. From time to time, Matt Gibson, bass player of this tour's supporting act the Extraordinaires, would join Man Man's brass section, and slightly offstage a photographer played tambourine. You couldn't resist bouncing around as the band launched into the cowbell-frenetic hoedown "Black Mission Goggles," or hold back a chuckle as Kattner at one point paraded across the stage with a tattered black cape and golden crown.

"Top Drawer," a distorted and neurotic track on the band's forthcoming third album, Rabbit Habits, showcased Man Man's technical sophistication as polyrhythmic performers. The song's heavy drum and bass breakdown, gruff vocals, and needling guitar lines swelled with the full-bodied thrust and grind of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic.

The lyrical treat of the night was Kattner and crew singing the jealous and bloody murder ballad "Tunneling Through the Guy," with its shrill siren refrain, "Crawl back to the cave." Giving voice to a man whose psychotic paranoia causes him to suspect that his girlfriend will "do bad things," the song ultimately transforms into a totally nuts, Muppets-giddy psychedelic jam during which you can almost envision Animal recklessly hammering drums and cymbals with long thin arms. Kattner bellows, "When I punch the bitch, I black out/ When I feel the tease, I black out/ When they come to arrest me, I black out." This juxtaposition between the crazy and the insightful is what makes Man Man worth the fuss.

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