Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Man Man :: 10.31.08 :: Starlight Ballroom :: Philadelphia, PA
Halloween in Philadelphia was absolutely phreakin' electric! By day, Broad Street was overrun with Phillies fans pouring out pride in massive red waves. They flowed two million deep and three miles long from City Hall to the stadium complex in South Philly. The celebrations of parade day led into a night perfect for Man Man to lay their animalistic wild roars upon the fueled, frenzied, costumed mob. The line into the Starlight Ballroom was a snake of cleverness developed by eager fans in hot anticipation of this hometown Halloween show.
|Man Man :: 10.31 :: Philly|
We passed two unicorns, a few gorillas, at least one green man, two halves of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an ass-load of mustached creativity before we were inside. After extensive stretching and some floor drills, which involved beer chugs and laps around the dance floor, our team dressed in old school basketball gear was ready and primed to take in the relentless, strange exuberance that Man Man would lash against our ears. Unfortunately, all of the excitement was placed on hold as two opening bands strained with some less than amazing performances. Tim Fite's best came from his special Halloween ode to mischief, "Ding-dong, Ditch," which included a recapping of wicked Halloween activities involving eggs, neighbors, stolen candy and the oh so disappointing box-o-raisins. For a few fleeting moments, the slutty mummies, a Chicago Bear and some of the Warriors ball squad shook legs and bumped nasties before altogether losing interest in Fite's Sage Francis-style barrages. No worries, this crowd was excited and most hung-tuff at the stage, sweating off their face paint and itching under their thrift store ingenuity. If you stood back at the bar, the silhouetted heads of the crowd resembled some foreign city skyline, glowing and sparkling under the giant disco ball.
Man Man has been touting around their moustaches in support of their Anti- Records debut, Rabbit Habits. Their journey placed them onto the Starlight Ballroom stage just in time to heave out an epic Halloween show. Ryan Kattner, Christopher Shar, Russell Higbee, Christopher Powell, Billy Dufala, a gorilla and a few hard working tour managers bombarded the stage. The band sported sparkling ladies gowns and scraggily blond wigs ala Linda Blair in the exorcist. Dripping and ready for action, they proceeded to hit us with an hour and twenty minutes of non-stop mayhem music filled with Mexican funeral marches, tales of two-headed wolves and enough Halloween craziness to knock most costumes clean off.
|Man Man :: 10.31 :: Philly|
Kattner bounced eerie chops off the Rhodes piano while Powell smacked at the fluorescent lined drums, sending us down a spooky old road of an extended "Hurly Burly" intro. Kattner screamed, "I don't believe in the Hurly Burly!!!" It was his own vocal smackdown on Billy Penn's curse. The crowd erupted in approval as the rest of the band added in instrumental flourishes and encouraged Kattner to bounce skyward off his stool. Across the band, playing was already approaching a feverish level, as if they had been on stage for hours. Broken wrist and all, Dufala lulled the crowd with delightfully boozy horn work during "Big Trouble." Man Man's whirlwind of songs and swapped instruments sent zealous fans reeling on the ground and through the air. The Tin Man lost his helmet as an Indian princess' leg knocked him in the head while they surfed over waves of arms. Shar unleashed an exorcism of bass during "Top Drawer." His meaty notes caught all unsuspecting sombrero clad hombres and Viking horned spirits in his trap of sound. Bras and balloons became the projectiles of choice as Kattner stared devilishly out into the costumed void with pulsing eyes and white war paint dripping from his checks.
Highlighting the hootenanny was a hard charging version of "Butter Beans" that sent even more in the crowd skyward. Before long it was hard to tell who was in costume and who was really in agony under a sea of floating asses and elbows. During one particularly menacing moment, Powell stopped playing to help his manager yank a girl out of the front row. After giving her a squeeze and a push off to the side stage, he was back on the kit as the gorilla tossed candy to the crowd. The menacing music continued as Man Man materialized a tender and nightmarish "Van Helsing Boombox" off their album Six Demon Bag. They bound together Lou Reed and Screaming Lord Sutch to offer us something dangerous. As our special Honus Bonus we snagged a three-song encore, which featured a nasty horn-led romp that sent both Kattner and Powell bouncing before a blood-curdling "Engrish Bwuud." The song was so damn appealing as Kattner cried out "fee fi fo fum!" and the crowd responded in perfect timing with their own line, "Get the fuck out of my house/ Daddy this is my house."
Hoots and Hellmouth/O'Death:: 11.01.08 :: Johnny Brenda's :: Philadelphia, PA
Our city was approaching a cataclysmic event, one that defined the times and will live on for years. To help the memory burn brighter we figured why end Halloween since Saturday contained another brand of highly rambunctious music and local flavor. The freaks gathered at Johnny Brenda's for the double-bill of Hoots and Hellmouth and O'Death.
|Hoots and Hellmouth :: 11.01 :: Philly|
The acoustic guitars of Sean Hoots and Andrew "Hellmouth" Gray wrapped us up in a fury of strummed revival-like Americana. Hoots led the party, stomping out the beat with wild sea legs as Rob Berliner (mandolin) and Tim Celfo (bass) bounced on the plywood riser pads. Hoots gathered steam, shaking his enormous bushy red head. The fiery ball of a performer blended alt-country, gospel and rock, sending the front rows whirling. As the grizzly-like Hoots sung out "Want On Nothing," the cozy room shook with Holy Spirit. The band's timing was as tight as any group, and they felt much like Old Crow Medicine Show bred with the fight of Dr. Dog. The whole band rarely stopped bouncing on the extra plywood risers, the way a country bar places springs in the floor to add a kick in the heels. Keeping the chug and current flowing under Hoots was Bob Beach our local World Cafe Live sound guy, flutist and harmonica player extraordinaire. Beach acted like a regular Little Richard and Chuck Berry wrapped into one as he moved all over the music and stage and eventually even jumped down onto the dance floor. His harp added a wonderfully expressive traveling vibe and amplified the revivalist spirit on stage. The set ended with the back home touch of "Home in a Boxcar." Hoots and Hellmouth's set was the tightest of the weekend anchored by Sean Hoots, who was a presence to be seen. He commanded the crowd with a heavy foot and fantastic voice. Instead of losing himself in the moments onstage he was reborn in them, song and song again.
Hoots and Hellmouth has built a nice comfort level with O'Death and the two bands are a splendid compliment to each other. Andrew "Hellmouth" Gray finished the set by telling the crowd that O'Death was a puppet show and not a band. But, Hell's honky tonk puppets were too busy punishing livers in the back room to take anything to heart. Since we had last seen the Brooklyn bunch they have released another album, Broken Limbs, Hymns and Skin. O'Death has been a busy killer hitting the musical sauce hard these days. It's warming to see that the band's raw energy is as aggressive as ever. Following Hoots and Hellmouth's impeccably timed performance and spirited frontman was a tall order. As a band, O'Death has filled out their songs and rounded the bend by creating well-crafted orchestrations of slam with their latest album. Gabe Darling was another crimson-headed master to grace the stage. He increased his dexterous fingers and held a tight leash on the reins while Greg Jamie, Bob Pycior and Jesse Newman unleashed the havoc. The "Only Daughter" was haunting as it produced those perpetually shifting Appalachian howls that set Jaime apart from the pack.
|O'Death :: 11.01 :: Philly|
The shirtless, wild-eyed admirals of bedlam landed solid blows on new songs "Low Tide" and "Crawl Through Snow." Berry and Pycior broke the formalities with a crash of drums and a rip of the fiddle. Jaime's early moments of greatness began to slip away, and by the time they played "Grey Sun" he had let himself slip into stumbling oblivion. If this was your first experience seeing O'Death, then the experience was fine. But, Jamie was missing most of the subtle points that his nuanced vocals can normally capture. This show was a drinker, one filled more with fire water and rapid farmer hog calls than fine distinction. Musically it may have fallen apart seven songs in but spectacle wise it was just as entertaining to watch Jaime slop through a new song and almost stumble off the stage. David Rogers-Berry continued his attack on drums with shots to the gas can that were a tad less than his normal assault.
Jaime bolted off the stage with the look of a man who needed a bathroom before reemerging for a bit more of the old O'Death antics. The encore was as punk as any bluegrass dream has ever seen. The pairing of The Pixies' "Nimrod's Son" and "Allie May Reynolds" uprooted the entire crowd into a cyclone of movements. O'Death's abrasive style bashed in the face of bluegrass and then kept kicking it while it lay on the ground. Pycior swung such a spirited bow that he sliced a nice gash on his cheek. He continued to send the bloodied horsehair bow back and forth across his hollow electric fiddle, and its piercing cries sent shivers across the floor while he slaughtered any notes he could get his bow around. Torn wisps of horsehair dangled from the end of the bow, the tattered remains of the songs before, danced to life as he jumped off the stage and threatened to leave. The band stayed onstage as he fiddled across the floor, narrowly missing audience member's eyes with his dangerous bow work. They ribbed Hoots and Hellmouth about never playing in Philadelphia again before slaying the remnants of the house with "Allie May Reynolds." This time it sent Darling and Berry crashing around the stage in rambunctious leaps that disintegrated into hostile, banjo-led destruction.
Halloween weekend was packed with enough tricks and treats to last us until next year. The freak show from Man Man was well balanced with the spirited tightness of Hoots and Hellmouth. In the end, O'Death showed us the raw power and unhinged madness that happens during a two-night run in a city bursting at the seams with uncontrollable oomph and enthusiasm.
Man Man Halloween by Jake Krolick
Hoots and Hellmouth and O'Death by Jake Krolick
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