Man Man bring their bizarre circus carnival to life at Union Transfer (review, photos, setlist)

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Philadelphia’s Man Man are a band whose energy and enthusiasm are contagious. Everywhere they go, they rile crowds—but perhaps nowhere as much as in hometown Philly, where everyone knows a Man Man show is not just another concert but an event. Saturday night, the band closed out a month-long tour with a stop at Union Transfer, where they regaled the sold-out crowd with nearly two hours of zany, rock’n roll theatrics, complete with wailing, freak-outs, and Zappa-esque costume changes—that transformed the venue into a circus of moshing bodies and good vibes.

Front man Ryan “Honus Honus” Kattner, whose raspy vocal chords and manic delivery drive the band’s antics—bounded around stage like a man possessed, switching instruments and shoes regularly, and pounding out bar band grooves on his keyboard. Beside him, Chris “Pow Pow” Powell proved true to his nickname, plowing through tempo and key changes while navigating complex, orchestrated cacophony. And new members Shono Murphy and Adam Schatz—alongside Murder by Death’s Adam Turla—proved fully integrated slices of the bizarre, Man Man pizza, manning a slew of other instruments while contributing vocal harmonies and general wackiness.

The band’s massive set spanned its entire career, juxtaposing early songs like “Against the Peruvian Monster”—the first track off their debut LP The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face—with the title track to 2011’s Life Fantastic. The jaunty, witchy bounce of “Mister Jung Stuffed” had the crowd chanting along—and when it transitioned, seamlessly, into “Hurly/Burly” (which also follows on 2008’s Rabbit Habits), they shrieked and moshed even harder.

“Van Helsing Boombox” was a set highlight, Kattner’s saloon keys and raw vocals aping the impassioned howl of a broken down maniac—while the swinging, clappy “Piranha’s Club” had the crowd two-stepping with glee. Set closer “Engrish Bwudd” exploded with ferocity and oompah beats, the band wailing the fairy-tale-nightmare refrain, while teetering the whole time on the brink of derailment.

But if the old material proved zany and raucous, the new songs too landed with aplomb, and provided a welcome glimpse into the band’s forthcoming record. When I spoke to Kattner earlier this week, he shared that one goal of tour was to road-test new material—and indeed, Saturday night saw the Philly debut of three new songs, including a funky ditty called “Nobody Knows Where the Time Goes” (or so the lyrics stated) and a heart-breaking charmer with a refrain of “Hold on to Your Heart.” The latter in particular showcased a new, sensitive side to Man Man; Kattner hinted that the new record contains “some really beautiful songs,” and hearing “Hold on to Your Heart” has us more excited than ever for its release.

The band closed the night with an epic, five-song encore, propelling through squawking, indulgent renditions of “Steak Knives,” “Spider Cider,” “Bangkok Necktie,” and “Mayan Nights”—Kattner changing costumes with equal ferocity before emerging in a sparkly tunic for closer “Ice Dogs.” Energy levels sky-rocketed as the band danced as if on fire—a very fine ending to an evening of spectacle and rock’n roll.

Setlist
Feathers
Top Drawer
New song
Mister Jung Stuffed
New song: “Nobody Knows Where the Time Goes”
Hurly Burly
Haute Tropique
New Song: “Hold On to Your Heart”
Van Helsing Boombox
Piranha’s Club
Against the Peruvian Monster
Life Fantastic
Black Mission Goggles
Engrish Bwudd

Encore:
Steak Knives
Spider Cider
Bangkok Necktie
Mayan Nights
Ice Dogs / Young Einstein on the Beach

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