Concert review: Man Man (with Murder by Death and Damion Suomi) gets weird with a wild crowd at the Firebird, Monday, February 18
Typically performing as Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets, Suomi unleashed a stack of songs that showcased his solo-acoustic ability. “City on a Hill,” a Cash-fueled, state-by-state roll-call, culminated in a satisfying drop where Suomi sang, “Fuck it, Ian roll another and we’ll be on our way.”
“Burn the Pain” inspected the station of emotional compromise by way of a moon-lit gothic mystique. Suomi warmed the crowd well, slamming PBRs between songs. “Camel,” “Sunday Morning” and a cover of Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr” finished off Suomi’s set with a flourish, though I felt the cover seemed unnecessary given the high-quality of Suomi’s songs.
After a quick set change, Murder By Death appeared on stage. Small-framed, but big-voiced lead-singer/guitarist, Adam Turla, opened the set with the quick spiritual, “Kentucky Bourbon,” from 2010′s “Good Morning, Magpie.” The song slid into “As Long as There Is Whiskey in the World” aflame with an old-world Pogues feel. Sarah Balliet sawed heartily on her cello, creating a vibrant array of sounds that moved the song from crest to trough to well and back.
“On the Dark Streets Below,” opened with the provision, “Slow down girl, you’ll feel much better in the end,” before bleeding into cello plucking and vibrant trumpet. Turla informed the audience that earlier in the day, the band’s van had gotten broken into by thugs, its sound guy had to go to the hospital — “For some fucked-up spider bite” — and, finally, that its normal multi-instrumentalist, Scott Brackett, was home in Indiana enduring face surgery. Yikes! Nonetheless, Murder By Death’s professionalism, perseverance and poise was only surpassed by an expert performance.
Murder By Death blazed through its set, which included the rustic, gypsy wobble of “You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shaving With a Knife),” “No Oath No Spell,” performed as a serenade, the drunk ramble of “Rumbrave,” the somber “My Hill,” “Lost River,” “Brother,” the Doo-Wop-ing “Spring Break 1899″ and “I’m Coming Home.” As the set slid by, the crowd continued to tipple beers, sloshing suds over the floor and slipping in the hoppy puddles.
After Murder By Death, the stage was completely broken down and rebuilt. Man Man‘s eclectic and complex stage set-up (read spectacle) took about 30 minutes to set up. The band stood on stage twisting knobs, connecting cables, situating keyboards, setting up flowers, blocks, props and strobing LED light elements. During this time, the crowd spiraled further into a boozy delirium, apparently drunk enough to plunk down the requisite twenty dollars for a kitschy, mustachioed alien mask Man Man pushed at its merchandise table. As the band filed on stage wearing all black, I thought I had somehow stepped on a skunk, but it turned out to be a couple burning a jay to my left.
“Feathers” rose from a stark bed of piano and lead-singer/pianist Honus Honus’ deep, raspy vocals. Kids wearing Man Man-inspired headbands, bandanas and day-glow face paint sang along and fist-pumped during what I can only assume was a new song, entitled “Pink Wonton.” I guess this because the words exploded from Honus’ lips like a firecracker at the end of one of the song’s manic choruses.
During “Top Drawer” from 2008′s “Rabbit Habits,” the audience fired “I-I-I know!” back at Honus as he delivered the song’s dark verses. The chorus was followed by all manner of hilarious guttural yips, growls and screams from the rest of the band, which again, the crowd echoed.
“Spider Cider” from 2006′s “Six Demon Bag,” opened aglow with mini-trumpet, triangle and culminated in the chant, “Spider cider, spider cider, spider cider.” Pow Pow’s white glasses shimmered over his drum set as he peered sidelong at Honus Honus during “Hurly/Burly.” A cavalcade of noise jamming and saxophone precluded “Haute Tropique.” The song unwound like a creepy cabana-nights Caribbean jam complete with xylophone and Honus’ zany lyrics, “The paperboy is a paperweight.”
Man Man crashed through its set, sweating, screaming, costume changing, hitting every odd accent and note of its complex, macabrely-weird tunes along the way. Highlights included “Bangkok Necktie,” “Life Fantastic,” “Black Mission Goggles” and “Doo Right.” During “Rabbit Habits,” Honus stood up on his piano stool like a swarthy sprite, wearing a pair of gold-sequined-slathered slip-ons.
My personal favorite, “Van Helsing Boombox,” found its way into the main part of the set, serving as a nice surprise. “Engrish Bwudd” closed out Man Man’s show with crowd participation, shouting, dancing and beer flinging. At one point, Honus poured a glass of water over his long black hair, holding the entire mess over a metal bowl before engaging a confetti cracker in the faces of the front-row-positioned crowd.
Man Man returned for an encore, which included “Steak Knives,” “Ice Dogs” and “Sarsaparilla.” After the short piano melody, Honus whispered his final sendoff into the microphone: “Goodnight fuckers.”