By Andy Cheng
First of all, the band uses toy noise makers in its performances. It also uses flutes, pans and anything else it can find on the street. The members typically wear white tops and draw lines on their faces like a group of pranksters there to bang on random objects. Yet, while such escapades may be ludicrous to the typical music aficionado, let it be known that Man Man has toured and opened for Modest Mouse, performed at SXSW, Coachella, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Voodoo Experience and many other places. Its music has been featured in a Nike commercial featuring Rainn Wilson, and an entire episode of Showtime drama Weeds. Carrying all that musical paraphernalia around the world and to The Glass House at Pomona next week must be gruesome, but cowbells and euphoniums are what make Man Man one of the most unique acts in music.
“For us, it’s really fun to pick something up; it’s childlike. You get these surprises you would never get, and it keeps things really exciting,” says Christopher Powell, vivacious drummer for the band who professionally goes by the pseudonym Pow Pow. All of the band members have a nickname; Honus Honus on piano and vocals, T. Moth, Chang Wang and Jefferson on the wide array of other instruments. It’s merely the tip of a testament to how different and experimental these guys are outside of music.
But describing the band as experimental would be an understatement both musically and aesthetically. On top of having exuberant live performances with its nifty gadgets, the guys don their signature coordinated white shirts and facial war paint, giving them uniformity in appearance that spices up concerts. “It’s similar to wearing a basketball jersey; it’s a way of transforming the show without being flashy at all. It’s basically just a thing. We’ve moved on to black tops recently.”
Man Man, however, is more than just bewildering looks. Its newest album Life Fantastic was recently released to critical praise from music reviewers like digital magazines Paste and Pitchfork, citing a more defined repertoire of songs without the vaudeville sounds (after all, songs from the group’s previous album Rabbit Habits have fireworks). It was produced by Mike Mogis, who has worked with the likes of indie favorites Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley and The Faint. Give an ear to “Life Fantastic” and the dominating piano notes with forthright, grim lyrics (“I’m like a corpse in plastic/you find while at a picnic”) and subtle drum and tambourine beats will blow your mind.
“I’m excited with how [Life Fantastic] turned out. It was really great working with Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes,” says Powell. “We’ve had producers in the past, but they tried to take the most out of us. Mogis was more open to trying new things. That’s experimental rock.”
It’s been said that the band has hitherto been improving and maturing its music, with a more refrained sound than that of its second album Six Demon Bag, which contains the band’s popular live song “Van Helsing Boombox.” It’s controlled its wacky, sound-making antics that have defined the band’s musicality. And while its old material will still utilize jangling a ring of keys and hitting a saucepan with a percussion stick during live performances, it has since relinquished its clowning and opted to exude “awesome” over “what’s up with that?” in its current music.
Seeing the guys perform live is the real deal, though, as opposed to listening to their songs on an iPod or CD player. The band is, essentially, partially aesthetic, sporting the unusual appearances and weaponry to perform exuberant and ecstatic concerts, which is what Man Man is known for. “It’s basically us doing what we do. It’s our energetic live shows that help us stand out. There’s something about putting energy and enthusiasm into the shows that end up speaking to people. It’s something we’re proud of.”
As for the guys’ future plans in music and performing, they’ve got their hands full. “Everybody’s in the middle of works-in-progress. Honus is trying to put out new stuff with his other band. Another band that I play in, we’re working on a record. Chang Wang is a sculptor and is working on his art career. Lots of fun stuff,” says Powell. Indeed, fun is to connote the least when seeing these guys live.
“It’s really fun to play in a band where anything goes.”
Man Man at The Glass House 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us; www.myspace.com/wearemanman. Wed, Oct. 26. 7PM. $15.