XPNFest Recap: Man Man brings the Marina Stage to a close with some quintessential antics

Man Man | Photo by Noah Silvestry |
Man Man | Photo by Noah Silvestry |

What better way to wrap up the Marina Stage run at the 2014 XPoNential Music Festival than with Philadelphia’s beloved ever-changing art-rock ensemble Man Man.  From Honus Honus’ rock star entrance, to his “costume changes” that included an iridescent cape and white fur coat, the band that consistently brings us far-out, way fun experimental songs absolutely rocked the crowd to their feet.

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Ryan Kattner of Man Man talks kids, celebs, and how we should all bring him cloaks for #XPNFest

Honus Honus (Photo by Rachel Barris)
Honus Honus (Photo by Rachel Barris)

I’ve been a fan fan of Man Man for almost a decade now—the same amount of time I’ve lived in Philadelphia. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think there’s something quintessentially Philly about this wacky foursome—something passionate, and unhinged, and maybe a little sweaty—with a big heart underneath all the face-paint. For the past 10 years, I’ve loved watching them grow with the city, transitioning from a ragtag group of gypsy punk weirdos singing fantasy-inspired chants—to a (more) polished quartet crafting real moments of heartache—while never losing their unique essence.

From the start, front man Ryan Kattner (a.k.a. Honus Honus) has been the driving creative force behind the band, as well as one of our fave interview subjects. One year after our last chat, I rung up Kattner again, in advance of Man Man’s set at XPoNential Fest. We talked kids, celebs, and audience requests—read on to get the full scoop. Continue reading →


PREMIERE: The Extraordinaires video for “Blue Moon,” the story behind Dress for Nasty Weather, and their creative new label

Photo courtesy of the band.
Photo courtesy of the band.

Matt Gibson had a tough decision to make in 2011. He either had to figure out how to keep his band, the Extraordinaires, alive in the wake of Punk Rock Payroll, the record label they’d been a part of going under, or accept an offer to go on tour playing in Man Man.

He ended up accepting and touring with Man Man as a multi-instrumentalist in support of their album Life Fantastic until 2012. His experience touring in a nationally recognized act didn’t yield the results he’d originally imagined though.

“I think I was going into it with a lot higher hopes of meeting more people and meeting more people that wanted to hear new music, or being able to share the Extraordinaires music with them,” Gibson says. “Or meeting people to make contacts with them that may be able to help with the Extraordinaires. But now looking back, that may have been a naive thought. Because the reality of it is that everybody is trying to do the same thing and you really need to have something that’s impressive to peak your head out above everybody else’s. Nobody really cares unless there’s really some hype behind it.”

But he did come away with added comfort for playing in front of larger crowds among other things that helped his main band after rejoining in 2012, which come up later in this piece.

However, Gibson later found out what he thought about bands needing hype to catch the attention of the public may not be true. He and the rest of the Extraordinaires took the crowd-sourcing approach in the winter of 2012 to aid in releasing their upcoming album, Dress for Nasty Weather, their first on their new label, Color Theory Records, which they are running with Justin Wolf of Lux Perpetua. Through a Kickstarter campaign the Extraordinaires surpassed their goal by $2,000.

“Because for what we accomplished with Punk Rock Payroll,” Jay Purdy says, “it was really hard to lose that support system. But it was really inspiring to know that people had taken notice enough that we could do another book.”

Now working under the Color Theory flag, the Extraordinaires want to “keep the spirit of Punk Rock Payroll alive,” as Purdy puts it about the original label that released their first couple albums – with handmade books.

“Our current goal is to be an outlet for bands to do interesting releases,” he says. “As far as vinyl, CDs and digital downloads go that’s kind of standard practice. Because when we were on Punk Rock Payroll, simply by aggregating all of our resources, we were able to do these really unique releases.”

Punk Rock Payroll started as a small merchandise company in 2003, by Frede Zimmer focusing on buttons and screen printing and eventually grew into to being a label for a small roster of bands. Releases on PRP weren’t just conventional CDs, tapes, vinyl records, or even digital downloads, but much more. The boutique label put out music that were more like art projects than just albums.

For example, the Extraordinaires have put out each of their albums on CD accompanied by a hard bound book with the albums’ lyrics printed on its pages. This is more than appropriate for the band’s tendency of telling stories in their music. A song about to come out on Dress for Nasty Weather and personal favorite of Purdy’s is “Stray Bullet,” a tune that he says a bit like a modern version of Pinocchio but a bit darker. And don’t forget about “The Egg of Columbus,” from 2009’s Electric and Benevolent that tells the story of that certain Italian that discovered the Americas. And from the upcoming Dress for Nasty Weather, they are bringing their first music video to light for “Blue Moon.” In it each member of the band plays the role of a Charlie Chaplin-like character, meets what Purdy describes as an “Amerlia Earhart character,” document their day together with her and maybe fall for her, too.

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Is this what your family thinks of #XPNFest artist Man Man?

Eric Lockwood, Music Director of the School of Rock in Charlotte, North Carolina, decided to show some of his camp kids a video of Philly’s Man Man performing live.  He told them they were the “world’s best rock band” and that they were about to perform the “best song in the world.”  Hilarity shortly ensued.

A few of the reactions in the video, featured over at Philly Mag earlier today, included:

“It’s weird”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“This is a creepy band!”

“Dude, you’re going to break your drumsticks.”

“They look like they’re drunk!”

Watch the full video below and make sure you (and your family) catch Man Man when they play #XPNFest next month.


How music and friendship saved Philly noir-rock army Northern Arms

Northern Arms (photo by Max Gaines,
Northern Arms (photo by Max Gaines,

In some ways, the story of Northern Arms is a story of redemption. It’s also a story about friendship, and being true to one’s self emotionally.

“I always felt that a lot of bands held back if they did anything emotional—like they had to do it ironically, or with a smirk,” says Eric Bandel, from the back balcony of Standard Tap. “The stuff we were working on—we just wanted it to be true. We didn’t want to hold back.”

His band mate Keith Pierce nods in agreement. Emotional honesty has always been at the core of Northern Arms’ process, leading to beautiful, complex compositions that juxtapose highs and lows, for a result that feels startlingly cathartic.

Over the past 13 years, the band’s gone through several incarnations, including the 10-person rock monolith it is today. This Friday, they’ll celebrate the release of their debut, self-titled record with a party at Johnny Brenda’s. Afterwards, they have plans to tour the East Coast. These days everything seems to be falling into place.

But that wasn’t always the case.

“[When we first started playing together] we made some really beautiful stuff, but we were fuck-ups,” says Pierce. “We couldn’t keep it together. We would play out just enough that we could sustain our drinking. We let our worldview weigh on us, and it had bad effects.”

But perhaps we should start from the beginning. Continue reading →


Rodrigo y Gabriela, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Hold Steady and more top the XPoNential Music Festival lineup

Rodrigo y Gabriela | photo via
Rodrigo y Gabriela | photo via

Dueling acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, eclectic New Orleans folk-blues combo Hurray for the Riff Raff, and stalwart rock n’ rollers The Hold Steady are just some of the 25 artists announced today in the full lineup of this year’s edition of the XPoNential Music Festival.

These acts will play the two stages in Wiggins Park from July 25th to July 27th of this year, alongside the festival’s headlining concerts at Susquehanna Bank Center featuring Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis and Dawes (July 26th) and Beck, Band of Horses and The Districts (July 27th).

Hurray for the Riff Raff | Photo by Kate McCann |
Photo by Kate McCann |

The Wiggins Park bill is filled with WXPN favorites, like alt-country heroes Old 97s, Jersey singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins and Diego Garcia, all of whom are return-XPNFest-ers.

There is also an assortment of up-and-coming names like countrified Nashville singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose (featured on World Cafe’s Sense of Place: Nashville series); Bear’s Den, a UK rock trio with a flair for drama (they made a splash at the March Edition of the Communion Club Night at Underground Arts), the jazzy / folky vocal combo Lake Street Dive and the art-pop powerhouse Lucius, (who knocked our socks off at Free at Noon late last year.)

Man Man | Photo by Rachel Barrish |
Man Man | Photo by Rachel Barrish |

The greater Philadelphia scene is nicely represented as well. Bigger names like avant-garde rockers Man Man (who leaked their appearance last week), punk rock troubadour Dave Hause and reinvented folklorists Marah will mix with emerging artists Commonwealth Choir, Our Griffins, Marian Hill, The Lawsuits, Ginger Coyle and Viv and the Revival.

And adding an even more eclectic scope to the lineup is a taste of zydeco from C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band and some Mississippi blues care of harmonica master James Cotton.

Three days passes for new and renewing WXPN members are available now here. Tickets for the general public go on sale on May 1st; as with previous years, three-day passes will include lawn admission to the Susquehanna Bank Center shows (seated tickets to those are on sale separately, here and here).

Below, listen to a Spotify playlist of the Wiggins Park lineup, and read the complete list of artists after the jump.

Wiggins Park
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Trigger Hippy (featuring Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene & Steve Gorman)
Lake Street Dive
Old 97’s
The Hold Steady
Hurray for the Riff Raff
C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band
Man Man
Nicole Atkins
Diego Garcia
James Cotton
J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Dave Hause
Jeremy Messersmith
Caitlin Rose
Bear’s Den
The Lawsuits
Marian Hill
Ginger Coyle
Our Griffins
Viv and the Revival
Commonwealth Choir

Susquehanna Bank Center
Ryan Adams
Jenny Lewis
Band of Horses
The Districts


Man Man announced their summer tour and, hey, it includes a stop at #xpnfest!

Man Man | Photo by Kate McCann |
Man Man | Photo by Kate McCann |

The last time we saw Philly avant pop stars Man Man, they were throwing a wild pre-New Year’s party at Underground Arts. (Check out photos here.) Today we got some advance word that they’ll be joining us this summer at a festival whose lineup we’re kind of itching to announce around here.

The band rolled out its summer tour plans today, and it includes a July 27th stop at Wiggins Park for the XPoNential Music Festival Presented by Subaru. We weren’t going to tell you this until April 17th, when the rest of the lineup gets announced, but hey, you can’t blame the guys for being so psyched that they beat us to the punch!

The band is still on tour in support of its excellent fifth album, On Oni Pond, released last year; just before the album dropped, the band played an outstanding Free at Noon to wrap up the summer months on The Porch at 30th Street Station. Check out a short video and listen to the set in its entirety below.


Spot yourself in the crowd of Man Man’s new “Loot My Body” video

Man Man | Photo by Rachel Barrish |
Man Man | Photo by Rachel Barrish |

Philly’s Man Man are heading out on another leg of tour dates in support of their excellent 2013 outing On Oni Pond, and to get their fans hype for the show, they released a new music video for “Loot My Body.” It falls somewhere between a lyric video and a concert video, and we’re pretty sure we see a few seconds of Union Transfer in the mix, but wherever you see the band this year, you’ll definitely recognize many costumes, props and, um, dance moves I guess you’d call them? Check it out below.


Photos: Man Man and Banned Books threw a pre-New Year’s party at Underground Arts

Man Man | Photo by Kate McCann |
Man Man | Photo by Kate McCann |

After a year of hard touring in anticipation (and then in celebration) of their excellent 2013 outing On Oni Pond, Philly’s Man Man closed out the year last night with the riled-up live show we’ve come to know and love from them, this time headlining Underground Arts. Opening the show was fellow Philly avant-pop crew Banned Books; check out a gallery of images from the show below.


The Best of Philly Music 2013

Photo by Abi Reimold
Photo by Abi Reimold

In September 2010, we started The Key because we wanted to offer the local music scene another platform to reach more audiences. We also started it because starting in the early aughts we noticed something happening here creatively amongst the local music scene that was hadn’t felt in a while – it was growing creatively and the buzz about how good the local scene was becoming more significant.

More new bands were starting than ever before, more music was becoming available for fans and more musicians were looking for ways to connect to fans. To me, the last five years of “the scene” reminds me a lot of the Philly music scene in the mid-Eighties to early Nineties when bands like Electric Love Muffin, Three Times Dope, The Wishniaks, Nixon’s Head, the Goats, the Dead Milkmen, Schoolly D, The Low Road, The Hooters, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Tommy Conwell all represented for Philly on both local and international stages. We thought Philly 2012 was a banner year for the local music scene. Guess what? 2013 was even better. Here are some of the best things about the Philly music scene in 2013.

Dr. Dog made their best album yet, B-Room.

Man Man made their best record yet, On Oni Pond.

The Districts signed with Fat Possum. Look for an EP with a couple of old songs and new tunes on January 26th.
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