Rock like a “Man Man” in NoHo this weekend

By Garth Brody

Philadelphia-based experimental rock group Man Man will perform in Northampton this Saturday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. at the Pearl Street Nightclub. Tickets can be purchased on the Pearl Street website for $12.50 or at the door for $15.

Man Man’s current lineup is currently comprised of a fluctuating number of multi-instrumentalists with pseudonyms, fronted by vocalist/keyboardist Ryan Kattner (or “Honus Honus”). The other core members go by “Sergei Sogay” on bass, “Chang Wang” on saxophone, “Pow Pow” on drums and “Critter Crat” on guitar/trumpet.

They have released three albums since their formation in 2003 The most recent, “Rabbit Habits,” was released in April of last year to generally positive reviews and the band’s greatest commercial success yet (despite a fairly negligible sales impact).

Musically, Man Man’s style is a blend of gypsy jazz, honky-tonk vaudeville and frenetic rock. Their startling arrangements hide forgotten treats like the clavinet, sousaphone and euphonium alongside the electric bass, synthesizer and – in a jam – fire extinguisher. The antique mischief in their instrumentation, anchored by Honus Honus’s piano, brings their sound into the realm of mythic Americana.

In their notoriously raucous live shows, Man Man has been known to perform theatrical stage antics, from jarring light displays, jumping and kicking in time to already jerky rhythms. In preparation for these performances, each member dresses in all white and wears war paint, giving the group a collective character like that of a feral tribe of tennis players.

Their oddball instrumentation, absurdist sensibilities and over-the-top theatrics belly a certain melancholy that covers all of their music in a Gothic shade (that’s Poe’s “Gothic,” not your little sister’s “gothic”). Man Man’s bombastic sadness recalls Tom Waits at his best and P.T. Barnum at his worst.

It’s that damp, back-alley street music dynamic – at once exciting and gloomy – that has endeared Man Man to their fans and confused and repulsed everyone else. In spite of the predictably low record sales that come with independent releases and (arguably) inaccessible music, they have garnered a good deal of media attention. Their music has been featured in a line of Nike ads starring Rainn Wilson and an episode of Weeds.

Less unwarranted is their wide exposure on the indie scene. They achieved relative prominence during their 2007 tour with Modest Mouse, where their wild-eyed stage capers wowed audiences and, by many accounts, upstaged the aforementioned headliners. Then, in 2008, they played at the Voodoo Experience music festival.

But on Saturday night, they will be playing to a club crowd – albeit in a club with a capacity of 1200. So all those strange, swampy, sad-clown stage surprises that have made Man Man such an intriguing act will feel right up close and personal, such that one might almost be able to reach up and stroke Honus Honus’s mustache or flip a silver dollar into the bell of Chang Wang’s sax. In fact, if you are at the show Saturday night, you should definitely throw some change at the stage – the band would doubtless incorporate it into their unholy percussive chorus.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]