Man Man’s tech rider must read like a sideshow’s inventory.
- 6 sparkly purple capes
- 5 bouquets of paper roses
- 2 black boxing gloves
- 4 sets of keys
- 1 human skeleton (authenticity optional)
- 2 white fur coats
- 1 taxidermied deer head
- 24 jumbo feathers, red
- An assortment of hats
- 1 signing plastic owl
That all or any of this could be incorporated into a performance without making it stink of student theater would be a minor miracle. Fortunately, Honus Honus and his band of merry pranksters are miracle men. It’s been four years since Man Man played New York, and six since they released an album, 2013’s On Oni Pond. In the meantime, it seems they’ve done nothing but rehearse, write new music (they released the two-song single “Bleach” earlier this year), and perfect a stage show fit for a traveling circus cult.
Man Man played a generous 90-minute set at Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night, but before the six-piece took to the stage, opening act GRLwood threatened to steal the show. The rowdy two-piece from Louisville, Kentucky peddle what they call “SCREAM-POP,” summoning a roar with only drums, guitar, and vocals. Singer/guitarist Reg Forester has a shriek that could shred paper, and the wit to match. Forester and percussionist Karen Ledford gave brief, droll introductions to their songs, which included “I Hate My Mom,” “Wet,” “Bisexual,” “Nice Guy,” and “I’m Yer Dad.” The latter two tracks were the best, addressing abusive men of different stripes (overtly machismo vs. inconspicuous predators) with incisive humor. Both songs included improvised rants about everything from pizza rolls to Facebook stalking that are sadly absent from GRLwood’s 2018 LP Daddy.
Aside from their infectious energy and sly quips, one of the most intriguing things about GRLwood was Forester’s double life as a singer; one minute, she’d be tearing her vocal chords to meat scraps, and the next, piercing the ceiling with a pristine falsetto that inched toward the whistle register. You can’t help but wonder if this self-described “Kentucky fried queerdo” has a secret history singing in church choirs.
Forester might’ve sang like an angel, but Man Man mastermind Honus Honus commanded the audience like the messiah himself—or at least a convincing impostor. Before Man Man descended onto the stage from Brooklyn Bowl’s lofted greenroom, a purple-caped saxophone player led the crowd through a group exercise designed to rid us of our inhibitions and emotional baggage. Then he coaxed his bandmates down with a blow on his horn.
The rest unfurled like a trapeze act. No one stayed in the same place for very long, except for the drummer, who was burning more calories seated than most expend on the treadmill. He was also the only band member with a clear job description. The others were a dizzying collection of multi-instrumentalists; the saxophonist switched to what looked like an electric clarinet, the xylophone player put down his mallets to jump through a guitar strap, which was held out by the guitarist as he made his way to play keyboard. There were maracas, and melodicas, a double guitar, and a trumpet—and those were just the recognizable instruments.
Instead of the typical banter between songs, Man Man opted for endless theatrics: shaking clusters of keys on “The Ballad of Butter Beans;” wearing a mask of Shia LeBeouf; holding a fur-coated skeleton in the air before setting it out to crowd surf during “Loot My Body.” Honus Honus has perfected the art of ritualistic performance, sprinkling holy water on the audience, and brandishing a deer head above us like Rafiki holding Simba atop pride rock in The Lion King. He had us singing back up and baaing like sheep, and I can’t remember a time I’ve been so willing to participate.
After a brief absence, Man Man returned to the stage for a three-song encore. The sax player once again cajoled them with his instrument, simulating the lure of a snake charmer. They closed the night with an extended version of “Whalebones,” the final track on 2008’s Rabbit Habits. As the ragtime nocturne slinked along, the band left the stage one by one, while the crowd and remaining members sang the song’s unanswerable coda: “Who are we to love at all?”