Philadelphia's eclectic Man Man may have enough material to outlast an army of jam bands, but it deliberately keeps sets short if not exactly sweet.
"We look at all the songs on paper we have and go, man; we could play for two, two and a half hours, even longer," singer-keyboardist Ryan Kattner (who goes by the stage name Honus Honus) says in a phone interview. "But I don't want to see a band longer than 40 or 45 minutes, even a band that I love. I just don't have the wherewithal to withstand that much music, especially where we're coming from. We wear people out after 40, 45 minutes."
Unlike most bands, Man Man doesn't take breaks between songs. A signature of Man Man shows that began out of necessity ("if people aren't really into what you're doing, they don't have time to really heckle") has survived subsequent tours with Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire and Cat Power, as well as their current headlining run.
The band, now five years old, also brings an unusual visual presence to the stage. Along with Kattner, its other four members bassist-multi-instrumentalist Sergei Sogay (real name Chris Shar), guitarist-trumpet player Alejandro "Cougar" Bord (Russell Higbee), drummer Pow Pow (Chris Powell) and sax player-multi-instrumentalist Chang Wang (Billy Dufala) dress in white and wear face paint.
Musically, there may be no way to thoroughly describe the content of their third CD, Rabbit Habits, which was released April 8. Most critics will cite Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and Tom Waits three of rock's most idiosyncratic icons as references, but similarities to those artists are fleeting. Other oddball touchstones might include Primus or the ever-cosmic Sun Ra.
As Rabbit Habits proves, the group has its share of far more accessible and conventional influences that cut across the realms of rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz and beyond. It's entertaining throughout, as Man Man races through hugely catchy, madcap tracks like "Mister Jung Stuffed," "Hurly/Burly" and "The Ballad of Butter Beans" (featuring some rapid-fire xylophone), along with slightly more restrained fare such as the New Orleans jazz-flavored "Big Trouble."
Like the group's first two releases, The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face (2004) and Six Demon Bag (2006), it's filled with a plethora of instrumentation and vocal harmonies as well as sonic bells and whistles.
Not surprisingly, the recording process can be painstaking and difficult, as the band takes the songs from basic tracks to the finished versions.
"Before we go in the studio, we have an idea of what we want," Kattner says. "Some songs are tested out on the road. [But] when we get in the studio, those shapes can change."
On stage, the band doesn't attempt to recreate the studio versions of its songs not that this would be possible to begin with.
"I like to say that it's a lot more visceral live," Kattner says. "[The fans] give us energy and enthusiasm that just fires us up. It's like a tent revival."