The evening began with a tight set from guitar-bass-drums trio Let’s Wrestle from the London suburb Muswell Hill, notably where The Kinks also came from. Their sound reminded me of Husker Du, the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. — not a bad thing! — and I especially liked that the vocals were mixed high enough to really hear. Right-oh!
Next up was Costa Mesa-based band The Growlers, who play swinging, groovy, surf-infused music featuring cool guitar sounds and effective tempo changes. Singer Brooks Nielsen was a sight to behold in an outrageous blond wig, and he had microphones with different effects, including the “weed mike” and the “acid mike.” Most of their songs have the same vibe, which is cool, but I secretly hope to hear them with an expanded sonic palette in the future.
The main event was Man Man, who are sort of a wicked stepmothers of invention, playing precise, energetic mutant prog-funk with touches of Frank Zappa and the real Mothers of Invention, Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart.
Wearing white warpaint on their faces, they concocted song after song, without break, of rhythmic sonic bliss. Their songs — “they” being frontman Honus Honus, Critter Crat, Pow Pow, Chang Wang and Sergei Sogay — are heavy on the keyboards and drums, but also have prominent xylophone, marimba and saxophone, and sometimes even melodica and euphonium.
Seeing the Philadelphia-based Man Man live is certainly the way to experience them, as their craziness cannot be fully contained in something as small as an iPod or a shaky YouTube video. In fact, it could barely be contained on the crowded SOhO stage.
Indeed, the craziness spilled over into the over-21 section of the SOhO floor, which became a sweaty collective of colliding bodies. I must say that the over-21s seemed to be having a much more raucous time than the under-21s. Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol?
In addition to quirky songs from their catalog, Man Man started the encore — which was less frenetic than the main set — with a cool cover of “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum),” a single by the new wave group Fun Boy Three. Speaking of covers, a friend suggested that they should play “Blinded By the Light,” as popularized by Manfred Mann.
Manfred Mann. Man Man. Geddit? Maybe next time.
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.