Thursday · Southgate House
After a 30-year career struggle and 14 years after his untimely death, Frank Zappa is just now beginning to gain some semblance of respect for his compositional, conceptual and orchestral genius. Tom Waits has toiled away in various uncompromised guises during his three-decade stretch, from idiosyncratic singer/songwriter to hipster Jazz boho/hobo to arcane sonic Dada experimentalist, with his financial recompense finally paralleling his critical acclaim. Captain Beefheart gave up pursuing the dream of artistic acceptance in the Rock idiom, trading his 25-year music career for a paintbrush and canvas.
As these are the three artists that are most often mentioned in the same breath as Man Man, it would seem that the Philadelphia sextet has a long and ignominious row to hoe, although they are the first to admit that they are slightly disconcerted by these comparisons, noting that their band possesses neither the genius nor actual sound of the aforementioned greats. What they do have in common is the fact that true originals like Zappa, Waits and Beefheart have softened the ground for equally demented oddballs like Man Man to take root and at least have a chance to prosper.
Beginning life as Gamelon and then Magic Blood, Man Man got started four years ago and went through a variety of lineup shifts and emotional upheavals before arriving at their current membership; frontman and creative sparkplug Honus Honus (everyone in Man Man plays pseudonymously) has been the one constant in the band's history. As whacked out as Man Man's studio work has been (2004's The Man with a Blue Turban with a Face, 2006's Six Demon Bag), their live presentation is the real attraction. Decked out in white (often tennis togs) and streaked with war paint, Man Man eschews audience interaction and between-song banter for full-bore and non-stop concentration on the sonic task at hand.
With a new album just begun, Man Man is sure to have new songs for their Southgate set (they were the highlight there last year for the "Lite Brite" indie film and music festival). But don't expect any slow, sad ones -- those put a damper on the band's live energy so they leave them strictly for the studio. For one of the truly original musical experiences, don't miss a chance to get your Man Man on.
The Number Twelve Looks Like You with Horse the Band, Light This City and So Many Dynamos
Saturday · Top Cat's
Back in Steve Martin's stand-up days, he used to do a bit about words you'd never hear in a sentence together -- such as "I'm going to suck this piano into my lungs." The Number Twelve Looks Like You, a sextet from the wilds of New Jersey, are the musical embodiment of Martin's routine, an almost inconceivable genre mash-up of Death Metal's extremity, Jazz's skittering dissonance, Grindcore's visceral intensity and Hardcore's melodic brutality that sounds likes the sum of parts that have no business working together as well as they do.
Because of the Number Twelve's incredible exactitude in executing this disparate style splice, the band is often categorized as Mathcore, an apt description of their hell-spawned version of Metal/Hardcore's relative chaos and Math Rock's inherent precision in one spectacularly monolithic package.
The band began years ago as And Ever, tweaking their style slightly and changing their name to the Number Twelve Looks Like You (in honor of a particularly affecting episode of The Twilight Zone) in 2002. Early in 2003, the Number Twelve unleashed their debut full-length, Put On Your Rosy Red Glasses, to great acclaim among fans of the genres they stitched together. With a year of relentless touring under their belts, the Number Twelve signed with Eyeball Records and released their EP, An Inch of Gold for an Inch of Time, containing an outrageous version of the Knack's "My Sharona." In 2005, the Number Twelve struck again with Nuclear.Sad.Nuclear, and last year found the band in typically rare form as they dropped another evolutionarily brutal slab of Metal machine music titled Mongrel.
Subtlety and melodicism are not qualities exhibited by most Metal/Hardcore bands and, by the same token, molten drama and blistering volume are rarely ever associated with Math Rock, making the Number Twelve's successful hybrid all the more puzzling and oddly appealing. With uncharacteristic grace and at a volume that is the sonic equivalent of a chemical peel, the Number Twelve Looks Like You stands out in a genre that is often littered with bands that are loud or emotional or frenetic for its own sake. Hold on to your wigs and keys, kids, because the Number Twelve are all those things and more, for all the impossibly right reasons and in the impossibly right measure. (BB)
David Vandervelde with Richard Swift
Sunday · Southgate House
On The Moonstation House Band, singer/songwriter David Vandervelde sounds like a young musician who hasn't totally figured out what he want to be when he grows up. In most cases like that, the outcome is unrefined, the influences so apparent it's distracting, resulting in an unfocussed mess. But in Vandervelde's case, it's an incredible asset, making for music that is sophisticated, accomplished and nondistractingly diverse. Vandervelde has already developed his own distinct sound, but he takes that sound and tinkers with it like a Pimp My Ride car mechanic turning trashy hoopties into gloriously magnificent road machines.
It took Vandervelde three years to get Moonstation out on store shelves (he started work on it when he was just 19) and, though only seven tracks long, it's a remarkable introduction that was worth every ounce of labor he and his minimal collaborators (he recorded most of the instruments himself) put into it. Bred in Michigan and now based in Chicago, Vandervelde has become a favorite of bloggers and the rest of the world is inevitably following their lead. Listening to Moonstation, it's clear the hype is warranted. Spending two years in the studio of former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, Vandervelde captures an exuberant brand of Indie Pop, where melodies wrap around listeners' cranium like a fatal neurological disease. But it's a disease you'll be happy to catch. Not that you could help it anyway -- Vandervelde's songs have more hooks than a Captain Hook impersonator convention.
Vandervelde's magnetic voice is blissfully androgynous, bringing to mind Glam Rock kingpins like Marc Bolan. But, while there are other Glam concessions, no two songs on the record sound the same. Opener "Nothing No" has sitar-like plunks, an oceanic sway and a rootsy chord progression, while Vandervelde's melody is catchier than anything on Top 40 radio today. He gets a little more typically Glam on the T. Rex-ian "Jacket," while the ghostly, reverbed-out "Feet of a Liar" seethes twinkling, twilight sadness and "Corduroy Blues" is a lush, gorgeous piano ballad that has a Soft Rock bent and luxurious string arrangements from David Campbell (Beck's dad and a master string arranger who has worked with Elton John and Leonard Cohen). The chorus of "Can't See Your Face No More" has the sleighbell bounce of an old Ronettes song (save the distracting bongo percolations), while "Murder In Michigan" is the closest to Wilco Vandervelde gets on the record, a Roots Pop gem that weeps with warm steel-pedal guitar swells.
Vandervelde (like tour partner Richard Swift) is one of the leaders of a new movement in Indie Pop that strives to create something timeless without being wholly beholden to the past. (Mike Breen)