Bowery Ballroom, New York, March 7
It’s a big night for The Men. Firstly, this isn’t just a gig, it’s the release party for their fourth album, ‘New Moon’. Secondly, this is a hometown crowd. Technically, The Men are from across the water in Brooklyn, but that’s close enough to ensure this Manhattan venue is packed with fans, friends and family.
They’re not the only draw, though. With their debut album proper ‘Light Up Gold’ (following the limited cassette release ‘American Specialties’) getting mad props on both sides of the Atlantic, fellowBrooklynites Parquet Courts have pulled a huge crowd. There’s a minute of awkward silence as the lights dim and the PA dies down, but no sign of the four-piece. It’s a nervous non-start, but everything settles down with the lethargic power-chug of new song ‘She’s Rolling’. It’s the start of a vastly varied setlist – the slacker disaffection of ‘Stoned And Starving’, the breakneck garage punk of ‘Sunbathing’ (another new one), the frenetic jitters of ‘Yonder Is Closer To The Heart’ and the frustrated, stuttering ennui of final song ‘Borrowed Time’. Part Jonathan Richman, part Mark E Smith, part Minor Threat, their songs fizz with vitality. Onstage, though, their movements are restrained, as if mainman Andrew Savage and guitarist Austin Brown are trapped in a slow-motion time warp and trying to escape through their songs. It makes them much more compelling.
By contrast, The Men are agile athletes. They begin casually, saying hello to friends and tuning up until there’s one huge, incessant swell of noise. With the arrival of drummer Rich Samis, the band, augmented by a saxophonist, jerk themselves into ‘Electric’. What follows is an eclectic, confusing ebb and flow of nuclear noise and stoned experimentalism. Mark Perro, Nick Chiericozzi and Ben Greenberg take turns to have the lead, and with each singer and song comes a different mood. Unlike Parquet Courts, however, the band’s erratic behaviour is occasionally to their detriment. ‘I Saw Her Face’ and its Crazy Horse-esque onslaught of feedback is phenomenal, as is ‘Open Your Heart’ and the horn-riddled frenzy of ‘Turn It Around’, but the countrified bar-room jam of ‘Open The Door’ soon becomes tedious, as do the indistinguishable psychedelic wig-outs that infuse most of their songs. Still, it’s their party and they can jam if they want to – it just means they end up playing second fiddle to their openers.