I've said it before and I'll say it again: The summer of 2006 was really bad for me. It started when my friend/roommate/bass player's long process of avoiding/not talking to me culminated at a point when I came home from work and found all of his stuff was gone from our apartment. I had no answers about what was going on in his head, and he hadn't even finished recording his bass parts on the EP we were making. Just a few weeks later I broke up with the girl I'd been seeing -- we're finally friendly again these days, so I won't get into it, but those days were heavy, sad and painful. The disintegration of two very important interpersonal relationships and the fracturing of my band should've dictated I dealt with things immediately, but within the span of about two months, four of the seven full-time members of the New Haven Advocate's editorial staff left the paper (for various reasons -- life stuff, mostly), and by August my two remaining full-time colleagues (and one very dedicated freelancer) and I found ourselves pulling 10-to-12-hour workdays. I was working, walking home in darkness, typically drinking too much before going to bed, waking up feeling muddleheaded and bad, even working weekends, hitting up Saturday-night afterparties. Lather in malaise, rinse with anguish, repeat. I swam in a river of cheap bourbon populated with the angry man-eating fish of loneliness, guilt, dread, heartbreak, fatigue and regret. It was crappy to the max.
That was the atmosphere in which I became mildly obsessed with Man Man's Six Demon Bag. My god, it sounded like what the inside of my head felt like -- addled, broken-down, frenetic, haunted. I would listen to nothing but for days on end, edified by little but the truth that my reality had been manifested in this record.
Two years later, I found Man Man's Rabbit Habits similarly edifying. In that time, all of the problems I faced in the summer of 2006 have been resolved -- the band's been reconstituted in particularly powerful form, I've gotten some answers about what happened with/to the disappearing kid, the girl and I reconciled, the editorial department was beefed up again and then I quit, I've surrounded myself with good people who consistently remind me of the good things I have going for me. Rabbit Habits has been my soundtrack this summer for getting my head on straight, kicking against the bad vibes and forging onward no matter what kind of security net I have at my disposal. That's what's going on in Rabbit Habits -- there's knowledge of the past, of the pain, but there's determination to keep whacking away, even if you don't always know what you're whacking towards.
And that's why I freaked the fuck out at Man Man's show at the Heirloom Theatre last night. Dressed all in white (per usual), the band (a five-piece this time) charged through a raucous, sweaty set, full of primal energy and what I heard as a remarkable sense of resolve. That band was fighting. Not fighting amongst themselves -- I've seen them four or five times, and this was the tightest I've ever seen them -- but fighting collectively against all the badness and woe that informs their songs. I was with them. This is the strange, spastic, arty band that understands my pain and why I must fight against it. I freaked out harder than I've freaked out at a show since I was like 21, jumping like a maniac, shouting and singing along, sweating. I wasn't the only one. This was perhaps the most tribal show I've been to in a long time, band and audience vibing on the same wavelength, the same intensity. A good show is a moment of transcendence couched in the miles and miles of bullshit that is life itself, and this was one of those shows, x1000. If Man Man is playing anywhere remotely near you and you like their stuff, I implore you: Go, surrender yourself, give up on the idea of seeming cool, get in touch with your id. You'll thank yourself in the morning.
Man Man's Anti- Records labelmate Tim Fite was on the bill, too. There's a certain kind of surrender involved in his set, too, but it's something more overtly jubilant and childlike. The "band" was just Tim and a guy on a computer/backing vocals; the songs all used pre-recorded, full-band backing tracks. Sometimes Tim played an acoustic guitar, but it seemed to be mostly for effect. He had slide projections going on, illustrations that had a certain playful crudity not unlike those of Brad Neely and long video shots of Tim himself singing and playing guitar. He was big on sing-alongs and crowd participation; there were two variations on the old "head, shoulders, knees and toes" routine (one of which threw off the traditional order), and there was a song about burning down a chicken coop, a barn full of cows and a police station. While his set was as much performance art (his and the computer guy's blue-pants-white-shirt-and-tie garb were part of the whole weird visual effect) as it was music, there were a few really catchy pop songs in there. Tim's set was a show; you're not going to get the same effect by listening to the songs without the visual element of the crowd, the projections and Tim's almost preacherish stage presence.
Bottle Up and Go opened, and this was the first time I've seen them. The recordings I've heard don't, as far as I can tell, do them justice. They're a trio of electric slide guitar, drums and tenor sax, and they played on the floor, not the stage. Normally the idea of young guys (especially young guys who went to a prestigious university like Wesleyan) playing the blues makes me suspicious, but this was an unhinged and entirely rockin' version of blues and gospel. It felt modern and urban, but real and gritty and human. Shirtless and sweaty, they bent the idiom to fit their purposes and it did, in fact, make sense.