Words by: Chris Pacifico :: Images by Christie Harrison
Some time ago somewhere in Great Britain, the phrase "Everything but the kitchen sink" was coined to depict a lengthy litany of disparate items or elements. Nowadays it's commonly used when someone packs a large bag of luggage on a short sabbatical, but as for pop music, it's been some time since the phrase was used for eccentric tunes, probably stretching back to the salad days of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. But whereas their music was probably the first to contain all but the said sink, Philadelphia's Man Man's music is the sink.
After having whipped audiences into frenzies at this summer's annual Siren Festival at Coney Island and adding some much-needed kookiness to the two-day outing in Chicago thrown by the Pitchfork mafia, Man Man is far and away the best live act worth every cent of the price of admission for the calendar year of 2006.
Among the bevy of instruments on the stages with this quintet, who play within close proximity of each other, one will see marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones, other a-phones, vintage organs, drums, melodicas, saxophones, trumpets, bass, guitars, and too many other to name, along with eyeball lights, penguin weebles, and some fans who even place cookies on their instruments before they go on.
Honus Honus :: Man Man
Led by the gravelly voice of singer/organist Ryan Kattner (a.k.a. Honus Honus), the band includes percussionist Pow Pow, who defines his instrumental duties as "playing sexual drums," alongside multi-instrumentalists Sergei Sogai, Cougar, and Chang Wang. Chang Wang, who spent most of the time at our interview backstage at Siren laughing like a wild caged chimpanzee pelting dung at a zookeeper, is the natural oddball whose mildly seedy disposition sums up Man Man's enigmatic sound. Sure, they look like the type of guys who you wouldn't let your daughter get within ten feet of, and their answers to some of the basic interview questions are at times short, sweet, and to the point, but once a listener becomes a seasoned Man Man fan, they know it's all about the music.
Their latest, highly-praised sophomore full-length Six Demon Bag is a punk-filled and jazzy rumpus-filled stew cut from the cloth of gypsy, klezmer, skewed cabaret, pop hooks, drinking ditties, and a curious assortment of other influences. The album can at times be redolent of the likes of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart, played by a crew of elves, gnomes, and ogres at a mushroom party in a setting penned by JRR Tolkien and composed by Bertolt Brecht on an absinthe binge and a side helping of hooting, whooping, clanking, and clattering.
But Man Man doesn't quite see things in that light. They firmly state that none of the above-mentioned genres or artists have had any creative influence on them as a band and resist any labeling or pigeonholes. "We play music and lots of it," notes Sergai. "I see it as family divorce court music," retorts Honus. "We're not really influenced by that much. We're just playing the kind of music that we play." As for trying to figure out Man Man's origins, they really won't elaborate except by saying that their formation was "accidental" and that they got the attention of their label, Ace Fu, merely by means of "fucking up."