Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mysteries of the Universe Unraveled

Your body tells you what it wants.

Like the other day, my friend and I were eating hot dogs and he inexplicably said that what the dog needed was some greens.

Based on what I was tasting, it needed no such thing, but his point was that his body was craving plant matter.

On a similar note, I'd had plenty to do lately - art, theater, food, a few days away - but when I saw what the show playing at Strange Matter tonight was, I was inordinately excited about it.

Not because it was a band I follow; I only know a couple songs. But because what I knew of Man Man, an experimental band from Philly, was enough to make me seriously want to be at the show.

Translation: I needed a music fix.

It was easy enough to accommodate since while I had dinner plans, they were of the early variety and at Don't Look Back and there's only so long it can take to eat a Frito Pie or black bean nachos.

The duo I was dining with brought tales of camping in West Virginia (carrying a 40 pound pack? no, thanks) and growing out a head of curly hair (if you can, why wouldn't you?) while giving me a hard time about some of my recent and upcoming plans.

Our server was using his inside voice, which seemed strange in a noisy restaurant, until I asked and he admitted that he and his band had been recording their new record for the past three nights and his voice was gone.

Server, musician, tomato, tomahto.

When my dining companions moved on to more sedate activities, I got myself over to Strange Matter in time for the doors to open because I wasn't sure how many tickets were left.

I wasn't the only one eager to grab an early ticket, but once I'd been given my wristband, I headed back out into the evening to sit down on a  bench and read the last couple days' worth of Washington Posts that I'd missed in my absence.

No doubt some of the VCU students wandering by wondered what in the world I was holding in my hands.

But I wandered back to S'Matter in time to catch opening band Bermuda Triangles, always loud (I saw several girls with their fingers in their ears), definitively tribal and best enjoyed when surrounded by a crowd, as they were tonight, playing in front of, rather than on, the stage.

Since this wasn't my first rodeo, I'd had the foresight to snag a space on one of the benches so that I'd have a perch to stand on once Man Man began and a guy with bright blue earplugs joined me on the bench.

So young, so cautious.

"Have you ever seen this band?" he asked in that way that told me he had. And not that long ago, it seems, two months ago in Charlottesville, he raved.

It was a fine vantage point to ogle the crowd which included a guy in cuffed, white carpenters' pants with white suspenders and a navy blue shirt. Now, whether he was wearing it ironically or not, I have no idea.

I got a high five from a favorite trombone player and a hello from the drummer I'd seen at Black Sheep last week, but other than that, I knew very few people.

Man Man came out in white on black skeleton costumes which looked a lot like those totally synthetic ones we wore as kids, the ones that didn't breathe at all and made you feel like you were trapped in a Baggie.

But the lead singer/keyboard player Honus Honus was a brilliant showman, making eyes with the crowd, donning an admiral's jacket and alien mask or white fake fur coat for various numbers- and gesturing wildly as he played to the crowd and sang.

Meanwhile, the drummer Pow Pow was a rhythmic whirling dervish who twirled his drumsticks, leaped up and down in a synchronized motion with Honus Honus and entreated the audience to clap along.

Let's just say I was glad to have a place to dance up and away from the fray with a clear sight line of the band.

Given how into it the crowd was, with people singing along and dancing madly to the high energy music, I'd have been lost in the crowd.

For "Doo Right," Pow Pow got us swaying back and forth in time like a bad '70s concert clip and the room ate it up.

S'Matter is a great place to see a band, especially a band like Man Man who could easily have played a larger room, but, damn, it gets hot in there and I couldn't have been the only one wishing that they'd prop open the front door and let some of that delicious 60 degree air filter in and cool us down.

Instead we began peeling layers - my sweater got looped onto my bag, Mr. Blue Earplugs tied his hoodie around his waist.

It was survival in there. We couldn't abandon our bench or risk being relegated to the floor and our beverages were long gone.

Luckily the music was as winning as the band' showmanship, inspiration enough to tough it out.

I'm not ashamed to say I was loving it when the band did a slightly sped up version of the soulful "Head On," a song that distills their dancabilty into commentary about keeping the right perspective on life, even when it isn't always dance-worthy.

Hold on to your heart
Hold it high above flood waters
Hold on to your heart
Never let nobody drag it under

Finally the band left the stage and escaped outside, presumably to cool down, before returning for a five-song encore and whipping us into a fantastical frenzy again. I could feel my hair was wet at the roots but I sure was loving the music.

Sometimes you just need greens on a hot dog.

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