LiveDC: Man Man w/ Murder By Death @ Black Cat
BYT Staff | Feb 11, 2013 | 1:30PM |

All words: Emily Crawford // All photos: Ryan Kelly

There’s something perennially refreshing about a band who flat-out refuses to fit neatly into a specific genre. Man Man, an eclectic group of multi-instrumentalists from Philadelphia, is just such a band. Not only do they defy genre, but any given record of theirs spans the distance between heartfelt ballad and raucous lunacy several times in just a handful of tracks. At a first listen, they can sound just plain strange. This is definitely not background music for coffee shops. But when one starts tuning in to the lyrics, the eclectic shrieks and clangs begin to reveal the depth of emotion and gorgeous songwriting underneath. Last Thursday, when Man Man returned from over a year of relative silence by kicking off a new tour at the Black Cat, their unique brand of experimental, apocalyptic retro-pop sounded every bit as refreshing as they did the first time I heard them.

The opening act, Murder by Death, seemed to pull almost as large a crowd as Man Man themselves; I saw more than a couple t-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with their name in the crowd. I’ll admit, having never heard of them, that the band’s name had me skeptically anticipating some amateur death metal, but I was pleasantly surprised. They delivered indie rock that was western-tinged at times and more like an Irish drinking song at others; and frontman Adam Turla’s voice reminded me a bit of Craig Finn’s, which is never a bad thing. Oh, and they had this girl who could absolutely shred on the cello.

Murder by Death

Man Man opened on a solemn, dignified note with “Feathers,” a slower track off of their second album, Six Demon Bag. This was the exception, however, when it came to the tempo of the songs they chose – they kept things fast paced after the opener, making the show feel like a rampant, ever-accelerating careen towards the wee hours of the night. And it did go into the wee hours of the night – with the main act taking the stage around 11:30, Man Man kept things going late, particularly for a weeknight. Not that it seemed to deter most of the fans; although the show was never officially sold out to my knowledge, the Black Cat was packed by the time Murder by Death took the stage.

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Carlos Mencia is undoubtedly one of today’s most popular entertainers and comics. Whether it is man-on-the-street interviews, studio comedy, commercial parodies, nationwide sold-out tours, or films, Mencia demonstrates an extraordinary ability to connect with a wide and diverse audience. Mencia comes from a humble background, born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the 17th of 18 children. His parents sent him to the United States when he was about three months old, where he was raised in Maravilla Projects in Los Angeles, California by his aunt and uncle. In his early teens, Mencia moved back to Honduras because his family wanted him to avoid the destructive gang culture of East Los Angeles. When Mencia later returned to Los Angeles, he showed such educational prowess that he was immediately promoted to the tenth grade. Soon after, he successfully graduated from Garfield High School. Mencia began his career doing stand-up on amateur night. After he found success on the L.A comedy circuit, Mencia was named “International Comedy Grand Champion” from Buscando Estrellas (the Latino version of Star Search). This led to appearances on “In Living Color,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “Moesha” and “An Evening at the Improv.” In 1994, he hosted the HBO comedy series “Loco Slam” and in 1998 he hosted “Funny is Funny!” on Galavision. Mencia released a comedy album in 2000 called “Take a Joke, America” that showcased his brand of humor. Mencia continued his journey up the comedy ladder by headlining “The Three Amigos” tour with Freddy Soto and Pablo Francisco in 2002, which sold out in record time around the United States. He was also featured in the independent films, “Outta Time” and “29 Palms” and starred in guest spots on “The Shield” and “The Bernie Mac Show,” among others. In 2002, he received a CableACE Award nomination for Best Stand-Up Comedy Special for his HBO special. That same year, Mencia was featured on “Comedy Central Presents.” Mencia remained busy and after the success of his solo dvd, “Carlos Mencia: Not For The Easily Offended,” “Mind of Mencia” went into development. The show was an instant hit and after the first season, Comedy Central signed Mencia back for his own original stand-up special, “Carlos Mencia: No Strings Attached.” The special was the first Comedy Central Stand-up Special DVD to achieve Platinum sales status. “Mind of Mencia” debuted on Comedy Central in early 2005. It became one of the strongest shows in the network’s history, averaging about 1.5 million total viewers. “Mind of Mencia” was executive produced by Carlos Mencia and Robert Morton (“Late Night with David Letterman”). In the summer of 2007, Mencia starred opposite Ben Stiller and Michelle Monaghan in the Farrelly Brothers’ hit feature film, THE HEARTBREAK KID (DreamWorks). In the fall of that year Mencia headlined a nationwide comedy tour titled “Carlos Mencia Live Presented by Bud Light.” The highly anticipated tour brought Mencia face-to-face with his fans from September 2007 through December 2007. Shortly thereafter, Mencia taped a new comedy special for Comedy Central, “Carlos Mencia: Performance Enhanced,” that aired in May 2008. Since 2007, every holiday season Mencia has embarked on a USO Tour to the Persian Gulf to entertain the troops serving overseas. For his 2008 trip, Mencia visited Kuwait to host “Operation MySpace,” an exclusive concert for American Troops in the Middle East alongside Jessica Simpson and The Pussycat Dolls. The special aired on FX in April 2008. Mencia’s 2009 USO tour had stops in Turkey, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Qatar, Afghanistan, and many other countries. In July 2008, Mencia began his tour, “At Close Range” at Red Rock Amphitheatre in Colorado. The tour was sponsored by Bud Light and co-promoted by Icon Entertainment and Live Nation. Larger than all of his previous tours, Mencia performed in 80 cities across the country. In the summer of 2009, he kicked off a nationwide comedy tour entitled “The Administration of Laughter” which brought him to excited audiences all around the country. In March 2010, Mencia starred in the family comedy OUR FAMILY WEDDING (FOX Searchlight) alongside America Ferrara and Forrest Whitaker. In the last couple years, Mencia chose to go back to his comedic roots, performing at a number of comedy stores throughout the country – allowing him to share his newest material with smaller and more intimate audiences.
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It seems that Man Man have switched up – and indeed toned down – their onstage presence since I last saw them perform live, circa 2010. Once famous for wearing all-white apparel and war paint when they performed, the band members instead wore casually uniform black, their faces were unadorned. I particularly missed frontman Ryan Kattner’s (a.k.a. “Honus Honus”) erratic costume changes of yore. All in all, it was a slightly muted affair when compared to the excess and pageantry of their earlier shows (granted, “muted” for them can still be deafeningly loud). I took the more minimalist approach to be less a show of apathy on the performers’ parts, however, and more one of maturity. They’ve been around for ten years after all, and like many of their fans, aren’t quite as crazy as they used to be – but what they’ve lost in spontaneity, they’ve gained in experience and poise.

Man Man

It seems that Man Man’s newfound maturity has translated into their music as well, or at least in its future. As promised, they played three songs off of their upcoming album, which is due out sometime this summer. The songs were played mid-set without introduction, so it was difficult to parse them out in one’s mind from the rest of the performance, but I will say that I liked what I heard. They reminded me the most of Man Man’s most recent album, 2011’s Life Fantastic, in that they felt more coherent than the erratic cacophony of earlier records. But the new tracks were hardly more of the same, either. One song in particular reminded me of “Doom-Wop,” the term coined by Kattner’s side project, Mister Heavenly, with its 1950’s lilt and pop-y harmony. I won’t say more lest I spoil the album for anyone, but it seems that Man Man’s sound will mature nicely, evolving while still maintaining a basis in their origins, not to mention Kattner’s raspy baritone.

One of the highlights of the concert was hearing the band hearken back to their early days with a few long-overlooked songs off their first album, The Man in the Blue Turban With a Face. “10lb Moustache” was a favorite of mine, with its weird little falsetto punctuations setting off Kattner’s bellowing vocals (Hey, remember when that song was featured on Weeds?). Other high points in the show included “Top Drawer,” the highly danceable “Piranha’s Club,” and the delightfully odd “Engrish Bwudd,” the latter of which inspired it’s own mini mosh pit in front of the stage for the length of the song. Sultry numbers like “Haute Tropique” made you want to dance the Charleston with their strategic use of horns. It was generally a good mix of tracks, sampling from all four previous albums while still saving time to preview the upcoming one.

My one real complaint about the show, aside from the fact that I am an old lady and they played past my bedtime? Man Man never seems to be big on playing their slower songs live, and this show was no exception. I was absolutely dying to hear “Rabbit Habits,” “Whalebones,” or “Steak Knives,” but it just wasn’t happening. To be fair, this makes sense for their live performances, which are so lively that it feels like if they slowed down even for a minute, they might lose momentum. But these slower numbers have always been my favorites on the records, due to their emotionally-wrenching lyrics and stripped down melodies, and I do wish Kattner and company would have indulged in a few.

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