By Laura Cooper
There aren’t many bands out on the music scene today that can play “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” on repeat more than ten times, before their set, without half the crowd walking out. However, not many bands come close to having the intensely different sound of Philadelphia-based Man Man.
Described by allmusic.com as “witty” and “cerebral”, Man Man is known for their particular brand of experimental gypsy rock, likened to bizarre carnival music, and almost vaudevillian form.
The band (consisting of four main members, all of whom changed their names for the project) perform in war paint and signature white outfits—often with neon sweatbands across their foreheads.
“This is the only band that could pull this off,” said a concertgoer in response to the echoing choruses of “Don’t Worry, be Happy,” while juggling his beer and pushing toward the stage, where an almost mosh-pit-like atmosphere had formed.
Man Man is often remembered as the opening band for Modest Mouse’s 2007 tour, but the group has been making music since 2004, when they released their first album, The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face.
It was upon the release of their second album, Six Demon Bag, that the band toured across the country—notably, with the Fiery Furnaces. Their music, though interestingly different and diverse, seemed to catch advertiser’s eyes—their song “10 lb Mustache” found its way into the background of a Nike commercial.
Man Man, like many extremely polarizing bands, has an interesting, yet devoted, fan base. Fans come to concerts wearing white outfits and war paint, mimicking Man Man’s signature stage presence and style. They also wear, or draw on, moustaches, in tribute to the song “10lb Moustache.” At this past Thursday’s concert, fans turned the event into quite an experience, shaking the floor at the Bowery Ballroom enough that it could have collapsed.
Adults threw themselves in the air, and crowd surfed into the dazed security guards, who are used to the calm, almost pleasant atmosphere which the Bowery Ballroom usually radiates.
Man Man is currently on tour with Yeasayer, another experimental, but pop-influenced, band. After 2006’s Six Demon Bag (a title drawn from the film Big Trouble in Little China), Man Man earned recognition in the music community, and this encouraged the recording of their junior album, Rabbit Habits, which is to be released in the United States on May 6.
Given the new music they showcased at the Bowery Ballroom, it seemed as if Man Man might be holding on to that marketability that unexpectedly came from their sophomore album. Their songs still showcase “honky-tonk” piano styles and music made from everyday objects, such as spoons. But, on this release, they make their lyrics audible, even understandable—something that Man Man fans don’t really expect.
After what seemed like the hundredth time we’d all heard “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” the crowd was singing along. The song stopped halfway, the crowd applauded, and the song promptly started again.
Shortly after, the lights finally dimmed, and Sergei Sogay, Pow Pow, Critter Crat, Chang Wang and their main singer Honus Honus took the stage before an enthused crowd. Beer flew into the air, bags were dropped and a crowd of people rushed the stage, jumping frantically, as if they’d been set on fire.