By the time drummer Tiberius Lyn brought his stick down for the final cymbal crash of “Young Einstein on the Beach,” a one-minute tantrum filled with caterwauling and loony electric piano fills, the crowd at Pearl Street Nightclub was hit with a rare musical vitality you’re not going to get shopping at CVS for quadruple-bladed razors. No stage banter. No lull waiting for players to tune. Nothing but five people creating the musical equivalent of ball lightning.
The evening was heavy on Man Man’s most recent two albums, 2008’s Rabbit Habits and 2011’s Life Fantastic. “Piranhas Club,” from this year’s release, appeared early in the band’s set. The song started out with the goofy chorus, “Throw me to piranhas if you want to be with me,” but dialed back the levity during the verse when lead singer Honus Honus wailed, “The world is a shit show,” and, “If you gotta crash a car into a lake to feel sane, I say do it!” The bridge followed through on the song’s bounce with Double Dragon-inspired synth licks and surfer slide-guitar lines, culminating in another cathartic crash.
As in Tom Waits’ and Frank Zappa’s early work, Man Man demonstrated their proficiency with stylistic pastiche, weaving together elements of genres as disparate as free jazz, Eastern European folk, angular rock, and salsa. But where Zappa created this effect with a 10-member band and 15-minute epic compositions, Man Man accomplish it with five members and songs that average three or four minutes.
On “Top Drawer” from Rabbit Habits, Honus put a hurting on his keyboard, punctuating every dissonant chord with a nasally screech or baritone howl. While his voice has often been compared to Waits’, his vocal range and stylistic vocabulary are so diverse that he can simultaneously embody Glen Danzig and Nick Cave without mussing a whisker on his impeccable mustache. Case in point, the band’s performance of “Dark Arts” with Honus falsetto screaming, “I feel it! Can you feel it?” in the song’s finale.
Honus stood with an impish grin on his face, sporting a flasher’s trench coat with confetti-filled pockets. He scaled speaker columns and blew feathers into the audience, while the auxiliary percussionist hoisted a tom drum over his head and pounded on it with a mallet.
During the encore, the band ripped into their classic, “Engrish Bwudd” from 2006’s Six Demon Bag, and had the whole crowd belting, “Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman,” and the tourettic outburst, “Get the fuck out of my house!” The, as a balm for the chaotic openers, the band cued up the title track from Life Fantastic, which sports a stretched-out rhythm that’s one bass hit short of Warren G’s “Regulate.” It was no surprise to see some folks in the crowd pairing off and making out, but it was short-lived as the bridge burned down the slick façade of the song with an ascending chromatic wipe-out.