REVIEW: Crowd surfing and bearded men with war paint yelling in Rittenhouse Square? Not entirely a typical day at the park. But it happened last week at Philadelphia Weekly’s Concerts in the Park series, featuring Man Man and Favorite Sons.
Up until this show, I’d never seen Philadelphia’s Man Man and I felt a bit unsure about them. Their tunes on MySpace aren’t too impressive, lack structure and sound like a poor man’s Modest Mouse. It’s not entirely comfortable and the hooks don’t reel you in so much as they make you laugh. What’s the big deal? At first glance, they seem like a band consciously
pushing in the opposite direction of conventional pop music.
“Another Pitchfork hype-band,” I thought. Nonetheless, I was intrigued. I headed up to Rittenhouse Square to make an informed opinion about the band that some people consider Philly’s best.
Like I expected, hip young folks were abound. They fortified the stone walls surrounding the center of the square, perched above empty benches. And if they weren’t sitting with their friends, they were perusing small art collections while dragging on cigarettes.
Outside the circle of hip lay the usual Rittenhouse crowd, unfazed by the bustle – couples occupying benches, picnics in progress and all-too-adorable dogs.At 7 p.m., indifferent concertgoers talked
and barely applauded throughout opener Favorite Son’s mid-tempo set. To the band’s credit, they played well. The open-air acoustics and immediate neighbors didn’t provide for an accurate gauge of appreciation, even though the crowd closer to the stage enjoyed it.
That was about as uninteresting as the night would get. When Man Man took the stage, they thrust into song without saying a word. I moved from my perch into the crowd of people because it felt right. Suddenly, Man Man was not attempting to be something unique, but simply something good. I understood why Modest Mouse would want to tour with them – they were like them, but coming at your ears from an entirely different direction.
Every person in the band was interacting with each other and the crowd, shouting choruses, playing percussion and popping confetti tubes into the air. Lead singer Honus Honus climbed atop the speakers and band members played everything from the usual rock instruments to xylophones to something that looked like an empty fire extinguisher with an array of cowbells attached to the top.
The crowd ate up their enthusiasm, both visibly and subtly. Forty-something couples smiled and sang along to the “la-la”s in the band’s hit “Black Mission Goggles.” A homeless man even commented on how they sound like Frank Zappa. And, oh, yeah, there was that raucous bunch up in front, moshing and crowd surfing.By the end of the show, I was convinced that I had to see this band again, but in a different setting.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Rittenhouse Square. I just got the impression that this band’s performance is best experienced when not separated from the stage by a contingent of people with their arms crossed and hands in their pockets.
Chris Zakorchemny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.