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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Saul Williams vs Man Man

posted by on August 31 at 11:50 AM

Saul Williams by Kjten22 from the Stranger Flickr Pool

Estelle vs the Walkmen wasn’t the only conflict yesterday, it was just the only one I’d worried about beforehand. Indeed, having seen Saul Williams’ Black Bowie/Native American Alien thing at SXSW this year, and having never seen Man Man, I hadn’t planned to catch Williams yesterday at all. But then I was there at the Fisher Green stage with a friend who was way amped for the set, and Williams’ band started making a fantastic noise, all digital buzzing and beat mulching, tinny and sharp and totally at odds with the prevailing feel-good festival vibe, and I thought maybe I’d check out a few songs. They came out to the stage one at a time—bright, primary color attired drum machinist followed by tinfoil spaceman guitarist followed by futurist Blackula keyboardist followed by Mr Tardust himself, with young child also with neon green feather hanging in the back/wings of the stage (a friend: it’s like Bad Brains on Halloween). He dedicate the set to Chief Seattle, which is way cooler than the average, “What’s up, Shelbyville.” I mentioned it at SXSW, but it’s worth repeating, the rock band thing is a great look for Williams, who clearly enjoys the fuck out of playing the rockstar (and I say playing not because he’s not a legitimate rock star, but because he plays the part with a serious dramatic flair, climbing the rafter, striking the stances, etc). His band, too, rocks the shit of their not very “rock” gear, the drum machinist especially, standing on his table of gear, pounding then stomping on his MPC. Remember digital hardcore? It’s back. There was, of course, the usual Seattle festival dissonance when an African American gets radical on stage—the sea of white kids fist-pumping along to lyrics about Malcom X (see also: Dead Prez at the Evergreen State College)—but that hardly diminished the powerful performance.

2813748914_6d856106ff.jpgMan Man by Kelly O

Over at the Broad Street Lawn, Man Man were like a reverse image of Williams: all white dudes in all white attire with all white faux native face-paint. Casual listens have yet to land any of the band’s albums in my regular music rotation, but holy hell do these guys kill it live, upping the percussion to turn their boozy/drugged carnivalesque songs into a wildly unhinged dance party. Also, watching the band impressed upon me something that I realized when watching their Philly brethren Pink Skull (while we’re on Man Man’s Philly family, can I also say a kind word about Need New Body? They had a jam back in the day) back at Nectar not too long ago—these guys aren’t fucking around, or they are but they’re also seriously good musicians, playing saxophone for one bar then hitting percussion for the next, hitting the drums in an off-kilter mess like Animal from the Muppets while still keeping time, murdering the piano while still barking out vocals. I’ll be revisiting my Man Man records, although I’m still not sure I’ll ever want to put them on at a dinner party, but I’ll definitely be at their next Seattle show.

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