Let Me Entertain You: Man Or Astro-Man? @ First Unitarian Church 11.7.10

Reunion tours are sticky. Rarely do they capture the magic of a given band’s original run, and even more rarely do they feature participation from all of the original members. Still, there are plenty of reasons to go and see a resurrected version of a wayward band. Perhaps you never got to see them during their original period of activity, or maybe they’re commemorating a career milestone, or maybe they’re one of your favorite bands who you’d see no matter what. For me, going to see Man Or Astro-Man? was a decision based on all three of those situations. Luckily, the space-surf combo’s latest version isn’t that different from how they operated in the ‘90s. Based around a core trio and augmented by a rotating cast of guitarists, Man Or Astro-Man? is a band that’s very keen on giving its fans what they want. After a 10 year absence from Philadelphia, the band’s mere presence might have been enough for some, but the guys brought more than just a standard rock show to the cramped caverns of the First Unitarian Church’s hallowed basement.

As the antsy crowd waded through the two openers, space shuttle fragments loomed from the back of the shallow stage. After the retro-rock Dex Romweber Duo finished their set of garage-proven licks, the Man Or Astro-Man? crew started assembling their setup. Plastic tubes were threaded through the PA monitors and colored coils were wrapped around each mic stand. Several portable televisions, fresh off the scrap pile, were switched on to static. The band’s proper members quietly plugged in their pedals and taped down their setlists (drummer Brian “Birdstuff” Teasley told me how odd it is to complete this simple task while fans marvel at the elaborate props). As the basement lights were flicked off, the projector screens at the back of the stage came to life with clips of forgotten sci-fi flicks. Those B-movies are a cornerstone of the band’s image, as most of their songs feature audio samples of unintentionally hilarious dialogue. The band emerged in orange jumpsuits, with various space-age headgears. The first few selections were some of the band’s many instrumentals, including “Inside The Atom,” “Sferic Waves” and “Escape Velocity.” The disjointed, shifting nature of Man Or Astro-Man?’s music gives it an unearthly quality, even without the sci-fi samples.

Though bassist Robert “Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard” DelBueno is the most animated and chatty member, it’s guitarist Brian “Star Crunch” Causey who does the occasional singing. “9 Volt” and “Destination: Venus” feature Star Crunch’s vocals, but it’s everything else about the band that demands attention. Whether it’s Coco’s modified computer keyboard/sample controller or newest guitarist (and former clone from Clone Project: Alpha) Jonny “Victor Vector” Browning passing his guitar through the crowd, the guys knew how to get the crowd excited. As any great showmen would, they save the very best for the very last. In an extended version of “Principles Unknown,” Coco first wailed on then set fire to a beat-up theremin, all before clearing the stage (and the several feet in front of it) with a crackling lightning generator. As I crouched in equal amounts of wonder and terror (with Birdstuff standing next to me with a floor tom over his head), I realized why these spacemen don’t make the rounds that often: their show is an exciting, exhausting one, for both band and audience. A spectacle like a Man Or Astro-Man? show must come infrequently in order to maintain its celebratory atmosphere.

Click the picture at the top of this post to see more pictures of Man Or Astro-Man? in concert!!

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~ by E. on November 16, 2010.

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