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Man Man @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Oct. 13, 2013

Oct. 14, 2013
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10.13.13 man man _ 2013 milwaukee honus honus alien
Photo credit: Benjamin Wick
Some bands never want to grow up. Perhaps that’s because the shift from juvenilia to adulthood can derail a group’s creative process. Philadelphia vaudevillian rock act Man Man, fresh off their fifth album, has been attempting to take that prudent step into maturity, which seems to be firmly at odds with their rambunctious, loose, carnival-like style. The fact is Man Man may have once sounded immature but they’ve never sounded young. Frontman Honus Honus’ scruffy growl makes him appear at least twice his age, and the same goes for the band’s complex rhythms, but they’ve toned down their shambolic attitude over the past few years in order to add a precise sheen to their work. As a result, On Oni Pond—their second straight Mike Mogis-produced record—provides their most polished record to date. “I think as you get older, that chaos is still there but you’re just better at keeping it in check,” Honus admitted in a Stereogum interview a couple weeks ago.

Any hint of maturity was thrown out the window Sunday night at the Turner Hall Ballroom, when Honus glided onstage during the encore wearing a tunic emblazoned with the face of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and sang a song about the aforementioned “Situation Room” anchor drinking lemon-flavored vodka and eating babies. It happened to be the night’s defining moment, and the one proving that, while the albums might try to restrain Man Man’s absurdity, they remain absolute goofballs live.

Honus would switch “costumes” throughout the evening, even if that just meant throwing something over his red shorts and black vest. During “Paul’s Grotesque,” he donned an alien mask and a marching band leader jacket. Later, he’d put on something that closely resembled the vibrant cloak from a certain Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Whether he was rushing into the crowd to grab someone’s hand or faux-kicking his roadie who was adjusting the up-lighting, Honus only barely remained confined behind his keyboard. His constant activity helped keep the show’s pace frenetic and never dull.

The only letdown came mid-set from On Oni Pond’s lead single, “Head On.” The bubblegum pop littered with clear-cut hooks is ostensibly aimed towards reeling in a larger audience who would be turned off by the band’s more peculiar material. It’s not a bad song, per se—and much better than most of alternative radio’s offerings—but the earnest tone didn’t mesh with the night’s delirious atmosphere. And most, in turn, seemed repelled by the simplicity—this was a crowd who would rather be bopping to a psychedelic waltz than dancing to an upbeat melody. But that one roadblock didn’t hinder the rest of the ramshackle performance. Five albums in and still constantly evolving, Man Man exemplified that growing old doesn’t mean slowing down.


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