Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Man Man at Cabaret du Mile-End 2013


Man Man  |  Cabaret du Mile-End

                             PHOTOS  |  VALERIA VEGA

It was my birthday recently. As per the tradition, I invited a few friends and relatives to a dinner at my mom’s for the usual “you pick the menu” birthday treat. At one point, all six of us are enjoying some fresh air on the balcony, the smokers smoking, the others chilling, when my phone rings.

Much to my surprise, it’s my buddy from Sacramento. Out of the freaking blue, he’s calling me to wish me a happy birthday. I am utterly stunned. I have not spoken to this man in years! We chat for a little while, make each other promises about emailing more often, and then I hang up and get back to the dinner party.

It’s only after the call that it hits me: this is the dude who has told me so much about Man Man. Back when that friend and I were talking a tad more often, I remember him ranting about the merits of this experimental folk band from Philly, about their frantic and very colourful live performances, and the unique experience that a Man Man show constituted. How odd that now, in 2013, after years of him and I having lost touch, he calls me on my birthday, that is, only days before I get to see Man Man live for the first time ever.

And I’m f***ing excited about that.

All chairs have been removed from the Cabaret du Mile-End floor on that faithful October 19th. The place fills up gradually, as my friend and I discuss with a dude freshly arrived from BC. I kid you not: the man is a forest fire fighter. Not a bad answer to the typical (and reeking of small talk): “So, what do you do?” Needless to say, we speak of Man Man with uninhibited thrill.

I am curious to find out who a cast of weirdos such as Man Man might have chosen as their opening act. Thus, when I see that curly-haired, wide-eyed singer in a red summer dress address the microphone with youthful energy, I approach the stage. Her name is Xenia Rubinos, and she is a skilled, bold, innovative, and gorgeous musician.

She sings and plays thick gravely synths alongside a sole drummer, and the fruit of their combined efforts are mind-bogglingly catchy. The two of them forge badass grooves, sometimes with unorthodox time signatures, that serve as a basis for Rubinos’ little vocal tricks. Indeed, she voice-jams a whole lot, with the most theatrical of expressions on her face. The lady’s first set in Montreal (she specifies it with an excited smile) is a passionate and soulful one, and it does not disappoint. Sean the forest fire fighter and I exchange a few squinting looks of appreciation at times (you know, that “daaaamn!” face). We both end up buying her record (Magic Trix) during the intermission.

Then, we wait. Wait for the moment to come. Wait for mayhem to begin. Such a wait seems endless.

 And then, the wait vanishes and the show starts rolling. “Hell yeah,” my heart tells my brain.

Man Man’s journey through the years is characterized by one thing in particular: evolution. I don’t know about you, but I personally tend to lose interest in any act whose music sounds too much the same from one album to the next. Hence, this band’s progress from a very gloomy, very strange, very Tom-Waits-flavoured brand of folk to the current keys-filled elevating hymns and fast, very upbeat songs has been prodigiously fun to me. Such an adventure from point A to point B in a band’s aesthetic is the mark that the musicians who are part of it take their craft seriously enough to dare pushing their own limits. That’s what great bands do.

That’s what Man Man does.

On that high-energy night, they deliver a raucous set with tons of notes played by leader Honus Honus on that gorgeous-sounding Moog Little Phatty synthesizer. The lyrics float in a storm of frantic folk craziness. Such lyrics are right on the money. They’re poised, kind of weird as always, they’re punchy, moving, poetic. They’re tales or poems, or else light-hearted ballads. Above all, they are sung in those irresistibly catchy melodies, those Beatles-calibre gems of musical craftiness. Every instrument is blessed with enough room to stand strong within the pack, but also blends with the others in astonishingly cohesive fashion.

Unsurprisingly, beyond the obvious dancing, rowdier activities occur. Moshing and sing-alonging are quick to emerge from the cheery moods – “Feel Free to Loot My Body!” – and a quick glance around the audience is enough to notice an assortment of blissful, highly satisfied smiles. The shoving around is very different from that which you’d find at a punk or a metal show. It has a sort of cozy vibe, it’s vehement, but not savage, nor hysterical. It’s a Man Man pit, I don’t know how else to put it.

Honus is on fire on that stage. He goes from the keys to the mic, then back to the keys, then grabs a ukulele to perform Deep Cover all by himself. He switches costumes several times during the show, and keeps removing his messy hair from his unshaven face to put it back in its tucked position behind his ears. He interprets his hectic pieces like an actor would, using theatrics and exaggerated facial expressions to emphasize certain parts. He is focused as hell, almost possessed by his spooky oeuvre.

An encore later, it’s the show’s turn to vanish in the night. After exchanging a few fervent words with good friends of mine that are soaking in mosh pit sweat, I chug the last of my beer and get back onto the humid Parc Avenue. Somehow, the night already managed to reach its end. I can feel a hint of nostalgia tickling my heart and soul.

The ice has finally been broken. I’ll be waiting for the next time, Man Man.

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