MAN MAN at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Monday (June 5), 9 pm. $10.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
When you think of the Philly sound, chances are what comes to mind is not five bellowing beardos dressed in white chanting in unision over squawking synths and pummelling percussion. Well, the hairy-scary art attack unit known as Man Man are working to change that. The chaotic barrage Man Man unleashed at SXSW a few weeks back quickly turned the bored-looking assembly of jaded and hung-over conference delegates into a sweaty horde of fist-shaking lunatics shouting along to the ready-made anthems from Man Man's Six Demon Bag (Ace Fu) disc.
And that was before the new Man Man members had a chance to settle into the whole harmony-hollering and face-painting protocol.
"Yeah, that was just insanity," recalls Sergei Sogay, who contributes "bedevilled bass" and "caveman throat" to the Man Man sonic blitz in addition to melodica, vibes and a little glockenspiel-plinking when called upon.
"What we do onstage might seem chaotic, but each of the songs, and really the entire flow of the show, is completely worked out during rehearsals. Though there are always some surprises, everything that happens is intentional, so any chaos you hear is planned chaos."
Similarly, the Man Man concept of performing in blank white T-shirts and matching white trousers was arrived at after much careful deliberation. Only their ingenious anti-fashion scheme doesn't appear to be working exactly the way group brain trust Honus Honus intended.
"The original idea of wearing white was to avoid having what we wear overshadow what we play. When the Strokes came out they were writing really good tunes, but people in the media were talking about their fashion sense more than their music. So it was decided that we should all wear white onstage so people would focus on the performance and the music," says Sogay.
"Now it seems that everyone wants to talk about our white shirts and pants. So what was meant to be this anti-fashion statement has unexpectedly become our style, and now we get people coming to the shows dressed up in white just like us. It's kinda hilarious."
Of course, Sogay neither his real name nor orientation didn't always run around in white clothes and a beard. He's actually from New Jersey, not Philadelphia like the other group members. Before he hooked up with Man Man, he had a reasonably respectable CV as former bassist of Stiffed and the Division Group. Everything changed the fateful night he finally went to see the band fronted by the guy he knew from working at the coffee shop down the street.
"Honus was serving coffee at the Last Drop while I was working at the Taco House, and the two businesses had this unwritten bartering policy where we'd give free tacos to anyone who worked at the coffee shop and we'd get coffees from them in exchange.
"Whenever Honus would come in with a coffee in hand to get a taco, we'd joke around. I knew he was in some kind of band, but in Philly everyone has a band so I didn't give it a second thought."
When Sogay found out that one of the guys in Honus's group used to be in a band with his ex-girlfriend, he decided he'd check out a Man Man show.
"The moment I walked into the club, I was, like, "Holy shit, this is crazy!' For one thing, the stage set-up was insane, with percussion up front and everyone facing each other. But when they started playing, you knew immediately that this wasn't any sort of trendy hipster rock crap. These guys were onto some other shit.
"Even then, Man Man were impressive, so impressive that a week later I was playing in the band."