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Man Man's genre-defying music 

Nothing good can come from relying too much on technology. We've seen bands and "artists" rely too heavily on Pro Tools and studio work to make them sound great. And this writer has seen two interviews go down the toilet because of faulty tape recorders.

A recent conversation with Man Man's Honus Honus (real name -- Ryan Kattner) came out as nothing more than a series of staccato tones on my digital recorder.

When I think back on the humorous interview with quotes from out of left field, I almost think it's the way Kattner would have preferred to be heard.

Man Man has entertained audiences around the country with its performances that are nearly void of all description.

When I caught the band at The Echo Project in Atlanta roughly one year ago, the set started out as a fight with technology itself. As crew members ran around stage trying to get microphones working and equipment set up, Kattner sat in front of his keyboard yelling, "Let's just play!"

When I ask him about that occurrence, you can hear the sarcasm in his voice, "Oh yeah, that was a great festival."

Kattner is also quick to point out that the band's stage is regularly set up in such a way that not every sound will be captured. The band is constantly changing instruments or looking for new sounds and not all of them will be captured perfectly.

When asked what the most unique instrument the band has used is, he's quick to name it -- "A frog." I tell him I won't follow up with "Alive or dead?"

Kattner says he often wakes up in the middle of the night with noises in his head that he wishes to recreate.

"Sometimes the sound of a falling bookcase would be perfect, so you hook a mic up to it and push it over," he says before a recent show in Milwuakee. "I went earlier today to buy 84 spoons which I'll throw into a metal container. The woman behind the counter asked why I needed 84 spoons. When I told her, she said, 'I prefer the sound of breaking glass.' Maybe she should be in our band, but the idea of a 54-year-old woman who works at the Salvation Army may not fit in so well."

It's not just the instruments that make Man Man so different from anything else you might have seen live before. It's the energy they put forth and the random acts of screaming, jumping and flailing about. They'll jump up on chairs, throw random objects, dance like a chicken or entertain in just about every, and any, way possible.

The Philadelphia-based quintet -- Honus Honus, Sergei Sogay, Pow Pow, Critter Crat and Chang Wang -- always perform wearing all white and with some smatterings of face paint.

Kattner says it began to prevent distractions, but it's hard to imagine distractions as being a bad thing when there's so much going on in front of you -- it's all kind of distracting in a way.

While one member is playing, another may jump up and scream or make an odd face. A freeform drum circle may form in the middle of the song or they may change instruments. It's not the kind of band that your average musician would be able to do easily -- it's scripted and it's talent.

The image in your head of all the chaos on stage may make you think this is organized noise or something along the lines of Frank Zappa, but Man Man has created a sound that's all its own. It's also not as disorganized as you might think.

Kattner says each song has "a torso and the band members add legs, arms and a head to it." While each song may not sound exactly the same way twice, there is still a song at the core of everything the band creates.

A few of the band's songs -- "10 lb Mustache," "English Bwudd" and "Feathers" -- have been featured on the Showtime series Weeds and the band was once asked to record its own version of the theme song for the show. Kattner says someone involved in the show attended one of their concerts and contacted the band about getting involved.

Man Man uses improvisation in its performance, but not in a long noodling jam a la Phish or Widespread Panic.

This is improvisation more along the lines of comedy -- standing on a keyboard, throwing something at the bass player, screaming at the top of your lungs.

Descriptions of the band's music range from gypsy jazz and vaudeville to indie rock/pop and swampy juke joint.

Kattner describes Man Man's sound as "picture Elton John buried alive in a coffin and there's a microphone inside." It may not be the ideal description, but, like the band, it does create an interesting visual.

Man Man will play the Visulite Theatre on Oct. 29 with Tom Fite at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 on the day of the show.

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