The plight of live-concert photographers and war correspondents can be similar in many ways: braving hostile crowds, dodging projectiles and stray bodily fluids to get close to their restless and poorly lit subject. Both risk becoming collateral damage in the service of that perfect shot (with slightly differing stakes). Metroland photographer Joe Putrock was deep in the trenches when Man Man’s lead singer Honus Honus stepped forward from his keyboards to sing the Tom Waits-y Gypsy ballad “Haute Tropique.” Punctuating a lyric about a lady who chops her daughters into confetti with a machete, the dramatically mustachioed Honus reached into his trenchcoat and glitterbombed the front couple rows, bedazzling Putrock and his camera. The friendliest enemy sniper ever, Honus finished the song, left the stage and gave Putrock a hug to apologize.
That thin red line between lovable and deranged is one that the Philadelphia quintet thrive on. “If you’ve got to crash your car in a lake to feel sane, I say do it, just do it,” Honus sang on “Piranhas Club” from last year’s Life Fantastic. It’s a cartoon boogie-woogie suggesting what Jerry Lee Lewis would play during a guest appearance on The Flintstones. Situated symmetrically onstage, Honus and drummer Pow Pow facing one another on their respected instruments, a giant drawing of a diamond on the synth stand behind them, T. Moth, Chang Wang and Jefferson spent the bulk of the set swapping instruments: guitar, bass, xylophone, melodica, saxophone, a giant metal whacking pole, whistling, car keys and all manner of synthesizer.
While Honus’ vocals gave most of the piano-centric tunes a raspy, unhinged party-ready flavor, the band were Zappa-esque in their tight arrangements and generous use of mallet instruments. “The Ballad of Butter Beans,” from the band’s 2008 breakout Rabbit Habits, was a standout, full of swift xylophone and group nonsense vocals that would have made Dr. Demento proud. The neo-tribal “volcano” chant at the start of “Harpoon Fever” had the crowd—most of whom wore the band’s iconic white face paint—chanting along before the song’s surf-guitar dive bomb had them gleefully thrashing about in what was likely the happiest mosh pit Valentine’s has recently hosted.
Raleigh Moncrief got things started with a somewhat misplaced set of solo electronic music. Best known for engineering the Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca as well as solo projects for Hella/Death Grips drummer Zach Hill, Moncrief was all patience and subtlety on his decks while a room full of face-painted kids couldn’t wait to get giddy.