Photos by Rachel Pincus
Shortly before The Men took the stage at their Wednesday night record release performance at Bowery Ballroom, I overheard a fan speculating about the stage set-up. “I’m waiting to see if there will be horns onstage,” he wondered a bit nervously. “Album that came out yesterday had horns.”
It wasn’t the best overheard gem — there was the drunk gentleman who, upon learning opener Honey had been together just nine months, exclaimed, “Fuck, yeah! You guys must be smoking the same pot,” and then there was the equally inebriated man who had apparently traveled from Wisconsin to scream at keyboardist Mark Perro, “I’ve never seen The Men live before! I don’t even know what it’s going to sound like! I’m wearing a plaid shirt!” — but that isn’t the point, because of course there weren’t horns onstage. Despite the success that has ambushed the group since 2012’s Open Your Heart — the festival bookings, the critical appraisals, and the leftward genre spins — The Men have remained the same sort of straightforwardly beer-swigging, punkish live act that that they were in 2010, with a touch more rootsiness peering up from the fuzz. Call them the Little Bar Band That Could (and did).
Naturally, the group tapped similarly seventies-worshiping — if less accomplished — peers to set the scene. The aforementioned Honey, a trio apparently engaged in a contest to determine which member could most resemble Iggy Pop, drifted along on throbbing, sludgy bass riffs and distant vocals delivered from a singer reading his setlist from what appeared to be a paper plate. The messy psych-punk of Ukiah Drag made for a more colorful set, with mustaches and organs and sunglasses and the like, though the soundboard mix could hardly support the group’s prog-tinged unwieldiness. Then The Men emerged — and, despite performing under the neon-lit Tomorrow’s Hits marquee that adorns the record cover, lurched into two fuzzy-as-hell older cuts, Leave Home’s “Lotus” and Immaculada’s “Lazarus”.
It’s both an admirable and a frustrating phenomenon: the group’s records have cycled through a bevy of genre identities, yet The Men’s performances reveal only a minor glimpse of that eclecticism, reverting back to the band’s punk roots. It’s only practical, perhaps. 2013’s New Moon was famously pumped out at an upstate cabin, but funneling that acoustic campfire vibe to a Manhattan venue seems a pointless pursuit. The taut, excellent Tomorrow’s Hits glistens with soul flourishes, but schlepping around a piano and horn section is maybe a bit of a hassle. Alas, the Stonesy soul of “Another Night” and winding, muted “Settle Me Down” were nowhere to be found on Wednesday night.
So the group stuck to Tomorrow’s Hits’ crisp rock underbelly, which was no less exhilarating, Mark Perro’s keyboard bits largely obliterated by the two-guitar attack on the pummeling “Different Days” (“I ha-ate being young!” Ben Greenberg screamed to a crowd largely composed of twenty-somethings) and the roaring “Going Down”. In a particular highlight, spittle poured from Nick Chiericozzi’s mouth as he led the way through the immaculate rockabilly thrash of “Pearly Gates”. And from the New Moon tracks performed — the brash “Electric” and “The Brass,” plus an extended “Supermoon” that you could reasonably enough mistake for a sloppily rendered Stooges cover — you’d have no sense of that record’s nostalgic, woodsy twang.
The band’s selection of covers was less convincing — The Chills’ “Pink Frost” arrived early on and The Grateful Dead’s “Big Railroad Blues” closed the encore — but entirely of a kind with the group’s raggedy bar-band ethos. “This is a song we wrote in 1984,” Perro joked when introducing the former track, and hell, if you didn’t know better, you’d believe him.
Pink Frost (Chills cover)
If You Leave
Big Railroad Blues (Grateful Dead cover)