Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Live Review: Man Man / Yeasayer (Lenny's Bar 5/3/08)

(Photo credit)

I wrote this review for Stomp and Stammer's website. You can read more "Tales From The Moshpit" here.

Copy-pasting action:

If for nothing other than a sociological study on facial hair patterns in young adults, the Man Man and Yeasayer show at Lenny's would have been worth attending.

That being said, I'm glad this wasn't the first time I'd seen Yeasayer. The sound engineering this particular night did them no favors, mixing all the punch right out of Chris Keating's vocals — pretty much the whole draw of the band for me. Without it, their creations spiral downward toward — what did Jeff call their album? — "Airy, mystical shit that sounds like somebody got a ahold of a bunch of peyote and somebody's Johnny Clegg records." Well sure, Jeff, to me it gets that way if the sound in the club's bad. I really like 2007's All Hour Cymbals, even if it's a little far down the blissed-out spectrum for my usual tastes. You might feel the same, but once you see them live, you'll fall in love like I did. Keyword in that last sentence: "see." At the Lenny's show, I only heard them, and it just wasn't the same. I could digress at this point into an argument against Lenny's ever hosting acts that draw a crowd that large. The stage is too low to allow anyone under 6' a view of the action. (Not to mention their one-stall bathroom situation on a night when the crowd's at capacity...bad news.) Ordinarily, I love the way Keating convulses when he sings, as if the music may actually be killing him, gnawing out his internal organs, but he doesn't care — he'll fight through the pain to bring you, dear listener, the tune that may save your life instead. He sings like a musical martyr. I know that at another venue, Yeasayer both looks and sounds more compelling; all I experienced at this show was the shoulders of those next to me, the varying haircut profiles of the people in front, and lots and lots of projection screen psychedelia and bass. So. Much. Bass. The logistics of showgoing were so poor that night that I even danced to my favorite Yeasayer song, "Sunrise," with 12 of my closest friends in line for the ladies' room. Questionable venue choice to host two such high-profile and visually-stunning acts.

Yeasayer probably shared a good portion of the blame for the bar being so packed, but my instincts tell me it was mostly Man Man's fault. These men's popularity is, to me, unsurprising and incredibly well deserved. I can think of no music less pretty — or more beautiful. Lead-fellow Honus Honus (a.k.a. Ryan Kattner) writes the smartest music I ever hear, lyrically and melodically; it's technically worlds and worlds superior to what mostly passes as pop nowadays. The set for the night featured heaping helpings of material from their new Anti- Records debut, Rabbit Habits, like the frantic "Ballad of Butter Beans," the syncopated and moaning "Big Trouble" and the just-plain-effing-brilliant "Harpoon Fever (Queequeg's Playhouse)." Yes, that's a Moby-Dick reference. They sampled bits off their earlier releases as well, most memorably the slower and more nostalgic "Van Helsing Boombox" from 2006's Six Demon Bag as the final song in their much-cheered-for encore. The song features saloon piano, whistling and one of my favorite opening lines in all of music; "Only time will tell if I'll allow the scenery around to eat me alive," Honus croons gratingly over Pow Pow's gentle rim-tapping. While you're wondering what he might mean by that, the other boys are all busy. Honus climbs and kicks, playing his keys, but the others switch instruments. Guitar, bass, all kinds of brass and saxophone, and even more keys are represented (not to mention the occasional slide whistle). Pow Pow plays his drum kit side-by-side with Honus in front, the upright pole of his high hat sporting an impaled plastic rabbit and some feathers. The all-white all the guys wear contrasts with their unruly hair and sweaty skin streaked with face paint. Sometimes Honus plays a bowl of water as a percussion instrument. Tell me you wouldn't love to stare at all this forever if given the opportunity. I certainly wanted to, and was grumpy at being denied the vantage point, but as I've seen them play before, and Man Man makes me dance like a maniac, all was not lost. You don't even need eyes to appreciate something so viscerally compelling.


Ben Grad said...

That was a weird show - I ended up walking out three songs into Man Man's set, and I'm still not sure why.

Nuçi's Space said...

Great review!