A Man Man show is really unlike any other live experience. Sure, you have the theatricality of an of Montreal set, the simmering energy of the Animal Collective electro-chants and the impeccable musicianship of many an indie rock set, but there’s just something so magnetic about the band, both in the way they conduct themselves on the stage and the music itself that keeps their shows from hugging noticeably to any one of those reference points. No, a Man Man show is a blur of sequins, slink and sleaze, and the one we were treated to Saturday night in Tampa was certainly no different.
The brief opening set from local favorites Easybreezy was a typically dextrous mix of bass heavy indie rock and shouted vocals somewhere in the middleground between Les Savy Fav and McClusky. Though the vocals from singer/guitarist Josh Greenberg didn’t benefit from a muddled mix, their musicianship entirely made up for it. Sometimes its just exciting to watch three guys play their instruments well and Easybreezy did just that, albeit to a mostly empty room.
After a bit of difficulty patching his sampler into the soundsystem, Sacremento-based beatmaker Raleigh Moncrief took to the stage to put forth his hazy bass heavy tunes. Though he took no more than a step away from his sampler at any given moment, his set was enough to get the crowd into mild groove. After repeated admonitions that the sound tech turn it up in the house, cuts from his 2011 release like “Cast Out For Days” and show closer “Lament for Morning” absolutely kicked, despite the fact that Crowbar’s mix was still a bit muddy. He didn’t drop “I Just Saw”, a track that Baths later covered, but it was nonetheless a more interesting set than many button mashers put forth.
And then Man Man. Perhaps the only downside to seeing a show like this in a venue as intimate as Crowbar is the preset realization that these guys are real people. Their stage presence is so carefully cultivated that it almost seems inappropriate to see them sitting at the merch table sipping drinks like any normal band. A Man Man set is just something different. The set takes on a feeling that’s part sleazeball dive bar house band, part throat shredding indie rock act, and part carnival sideshow as frontman Honus Honus bounds across the stage donning goggles, dousing himself in water and generally looking like a madman a few murders shy of Charles Manson. It’s obvious to throw the of Montreal comparison at Man Man, but aside from their decidedly more low budget theatrics, the stage show doesn’t distract from the music in the same way that of Montreal might. Hearing “Engrish Bwudd” sung by a group of men as cartoonish as Man Man just makes sense in a way that seeing of Montreal songs performed as a couple in pig costumes mimes sex acts just doesn’t. Man Man’s performance is over the top in similar ways, but there’s some crucial line they don’t cross that allows the characters they take on to be believable rather than over the top caricatures that distract from the performance.
All that being said, it’s not just the performance aspect that makes Man Man great, they’re just plain good musicians on top of it all. Whether in the fluid drumming of each member or the incorporation of such nontraditional instruments as the Bass Clarinet or the Vibraphone, there’s something to watch even when something crazy isn’t going on. I guess that’s what really makes a Man Man show. Each member indulges in their own theatrics, but when it comes down to it they have a wealth of exceedingly well put together songs and each night they perform them impeccably. While their popularity has largely remained at cult status, it’s become increasingly clear that Honus Honus and company deserve so much more.