The Rickshaw is an absurd and surreal place in and of itself without the added touch of a band like Man Man. It is an old theatre displaced on the historic and run down streets of East Hastings, where the charming aspects like ripped out seating and eroding walls are nothing new. In short, it was the perfect setting for a band as mind-boggling and unreal as Man Man.
The opening act Let’s Wrestle were young (“We appreciate being able to drink in your country.”), nervous and having a rough night. They blew an amp, broke a bass string, were constantly restarting and suffered from a sloppy drummer. Sparing this night, Let’s Wrestle seem to be a decent outfit, but—as much as this may hurt Vancouver scenesters—they were too British punk for their own good. The audience, minus the mosh-pit, didn’t latch onto the songs, therefore quickly losing interest and leaving Let’s Wrestle to apologize and then ask for a place to sleep that night. If it were a better night for them, they might have had a few more offers, but as it stood the audience waited for them to disappear and quietly anticipated Man Man.
White clouds billowed out of the smoke machine and five men casually dressed sauntered onstage and began reorganizing the setup and tuning instruments. A confused hush resonated in the crowd: was this their new performance style? Minutes went by as each individual left and the stage became bare again. Finally, through the smog, five men appeared dressed in coordinated white outfits and splattered war paint—the show was about to begin. To the untrained eye, Man Man seem like a bunch of crazed foolish sycophants relentlessly pounding any instrument in their sights and mindlessly screaming. Oh, the ignorance. Man Man is the musically astounding, lyrically attuned, instrumentally gifted reincarnates of Tom Waits and Frank Zappa (if Waits were to you know, die [ed. Bite your tongue!]). Synchronized jumps, costumed men throwing handfuls of feathers and suitcases full of odd trinkets are just the surface layer to the 50 foot core of exploratory genius that is Man Man. The show was a nonstop onslaught of saxophones, keyboards, euphoniums, xylophones, drums and kazoos accompanying raging songs like “Hurly Burly” and “Push the Eagle’s Stomach.”
The show was all business; Man Man may be characters of themselves but by no means is their performance taken lightly. Each song was carefully crafted and linked to another; at one point, equipped with individual drums, a song broke into a fitful drum circle, each member spontaneously bursting into the choreographed rhythmic detour that made the crowd wail and scream with sheer amazement. Song after song, Man Man pulled out all the stops—a trench coat clad Honus Honus climbing the stage walls to sit above the crowd drinking Maker’s Mark and singing, duelling xylophones having a showdown during “The Ballad of Butter Beans” and keyboards played with a saxophone, I mean literally with a saxophone. At the end of a short set, the audience—still standing/crowd surfing/moshing—was absolutely positive they would be back to deliver an incredible encore. Surely enough, two minutes later the band in a matter-of-fact stance set down and ripped through an encore almost as long as their initial set.
Comprised of now infamous tunes like “Van Helsing Boombox,” the encore was everything it should be. It was energetic and loud to start, but slowly softened and sobered up towards the end, signalling the finish of what is possibly one of the best shows I have ever seen.