Mexican Wrestling Party
featuring Blanco (ex-Man Man)
11th and Vine, Philadelphia
Man Man Download: “I Manface”
If people–Philadelphians no less–wanna start calling the town borough six, we owe it to ourselves to inquire, er. The party I’m at I imagine could have happened Bedford Ave pre-Bloomberg, 2000, 2001, when the rest of the world knew Williamsburg for wooden rollercoasters and candy-ass jugglers, not neighborhoodies and whitie-killing. It’s on floor five of a converted warehouse (they shoot e-porn on floor four), and the party theme (imagine that) is Mexican wrestling–no costume, no entry. More, masking tape cuts off a section of the linoleum floor. This is the ring, there’s a referee, and everybody has to wrestle. I say I’m dressed as a Mexican Wrestling bookie. “Look then, just give me some money for beer.”
Honus Honus, lead singer of local carnival popsters Man Man and wearer of a more traditional Mexican mask, squares off against a guy in a yeti costume. There’s a lot of rolling around, some blood, lots of soft bets, but Honus Honus loses, despite the fact that the referee is also in Man Man, despite the fact that the yeti costume is also band property. Blanco, an ex-Man Man himself, sounded matador tones to signal the end of match as a guy with one of those thin moustache jobs starts screaming the winner’s name. I’ve been here ten minutes and I’ve lost over 300 dollars. “Was it believable?” Honus asks me. What? “Was it believable, or did it look like I threw the match?” Another wrestler–a girl wearing pantyhose and cotton balls, basically–walks by.
Suddenly this yeti guy’s beaten everyone in the room and he’s starting to get an attitude. I would just like to reiterate that, had Man Man not lent him this costume, he would not have been able to participate. The partythrowers, one of whom is dressed as a burrito, lead everyone into an enormous room–fifty times the size of your most financially competent friend’s apartment. Inside is an elevated homemade wrestling ring, with halved tires for ropes, and the mat is a 6×6 birthday sheetcake, 25 birthday candles too. Somebody asks if he can taste the icing. “Sure,” says a host, “But I wasn’t going for taste.” I decided not to eat the cake.
People start cheering for “Wombat,” the defending champion of sorts, thought it might have just been her birthday. When she comes out, I take it she’s dressed as a wombat though I have no idea. Things get ugly quick–this yeti guy’s playing really dirty, shoving cake in the face, trying to do the steamroller thing when you take out your opponent’s legs, being an all-around asshole. And now it’s clear to everybody in the room, his yeti costume is just a gorilla costume. Fuck this guy.
After the match (Wombat won), Mizzle, the burrito guy, shows me the studio where he recorded and produced Man Man’s forthcoming record, at one point entitled Man Man In Your Butt. The studio doubles as Mizzle’s room, he explains while eating a burrito, a real-life Escher move that had cost him his match earlier in the evening. The new songs continue along the lines of the debut Man in a Blue Turban With a Face, though there’s less freaking out, much more along the lines of songs, some of it in that hyper-prog territory with quick and multiple movements in regular popsong lengths. The band’s letting its creepiness speak for itself, and the record’s imminently more listenable, catchier, better on first listen. Honus Honus’s voice has been pushed way more into the front too, about time, since his lyrics count among the band’s blessings–all emotions gone crude, freaks have feelings too type stuff.
Mizzle also recorded Man Man’s cover of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind,” the Motown ballad played straight, not hammed up, but still set incredibly off-kilter by Honus’s untrained raspy, Waitsy grumble. “It’s one of my favorite songs,” he says. “But if you think the cover’s shit, you gotta tell me.” A man in a Mexican wrestling mask has never looked so earnest.
featuring the Rapture
The next night I see Honus at the Making Time party, a three-floor dance-rock jam in its fifth year, and a keystone of young Philly cool alongside Hollertronix, R5 Productions, the Khyber, Space 1026 (where, rumors, Urban Outfitters ganks all their ideas from), and the guy on Chestnut Street who carries around an army knapsack stuffed with Peedi Crakk mixtapes.
Booked, planned, and bankrolled by DJ/producer and ex-All-American track star Dave Pianka, Making Time brings together some of the city’s better DJs who have their own club nights (Mike Z and Adam Sparkles), a bunch of the younger New York rock-house-electro DJs like Tim Sweeney and JDH and Justine D and other Motherfucker and Cliktrax friends, and one biggish, on-the-cuspish live band. The Rapture played Saturday, and in the past few years, Dave P has booked Bloc Party, the Hives, LCD Soundsystem, the Futureheads–all months and even years sometimes before those bands struck glossy. The party’s more no-frills than comparable ones in New York, so the cost is low ($10, typically, and the Sparks are often free) and the clientele is less predictable, less image-conscious, less been-there-done-that.
Maybe you see this coming here: More than any of the others though, the Making Time party visibly underscores the differences between Philly and New York. The latter may have the most nighttime options and the newest shit, but to my eyes, New York’s grown bored from overexposure, more trend-conscious but more likely to turn their back on things they love. Blame the price of booze, but it takes a lot for a New York crowd to freak out at these types of things. Sorta why there are so many jackasses always complaining about people not dancing enough at shows, also sorta why we call these people jackasses. Dancing, especially at rock shows, ends up feeling so forced, more a conscious move by jackasses to show “all those stiffs” that they connect more with the music, as if dancing is the only way to express that.
I am talking specifically about the guy who’s always wearing that blue Sweden shirt and handing out his seven-inch if you tell him you do college radio–the guy who stomped my glasses at the Dirtbombs show, then said, “That’s rock and roll, Potter!” Worst dude.
Philly people come to freak out–they just don’t care. Maybe they just don’t know better? Well they don’t care about hearing the new shit–in fact, they hate the new shit, so skeptical of it, so skeptical of New York too, of anything hyped or blogged about. The party used to have a bit of NYC envy, all dress-up and cool, but that act dropped quick–now it’s regular dudes, regular girls, even some flannel shirts, and some people wear baseball caps. During A Certain Ratio’s “Shack Up,” a punk-funk pillar no supposedly self-respecting New York DJ has played in twenty years, I notice my teddybearish friend Assman, who you may remember from here, has successfully traded digits with one of the more gorgeous girls in the sweaty, jampacked main room–he’s wearing an enormous pink shirt that just says “RAD” on it and a pair of Air Jordans, and his nickname is Assman–this is Philly. Meanwhile my friend Reefer starts chanting “Philadelphia” in rhythm to Daft Punk’s “Da Funk,” and nobody grimaces, not even Jake the Snake, my Bridesburg friend who’s quick to point out that Reefer is not from Philly, he’s from “the fucking suburb of Pottstown.”
As Dave P’s set drifted from a clean-cut Alkan edit of Franz’s cheeky “Do You Want To?” to rockier, crowd-friendlier terrain, we moved downstairs, where the NYC-based DJs Tim Sweeney and JDH played obscurantist tag between runs of Chicago house and left-of-Kraftwerk electro-funk and Basement Jaxx’s “Red Alert,” a rare dash of color in two deep-dug, hard-hit sets. With barely any nostalgia to build or prey on, Sweeney and JDH succeeded on sound alone–this is tough shit, especially in Philly, whose rough-around-the-edges energy often means parochialism. I’ve seen both guys relax a little more in different situations, which made the whole time down there seem like a challenge of sorts, a forced feeding, a conscious New York in Philly invasion. Maybe it was the Sparks.
The Rapture’s reception, maybe this said the most. Drop “House of Jealous Lovers” in a DJ set in New York and here comes the stage hook. It’s ridiculous. The song’s brilliant, but won’t be safe to play within city limits for at least another twenty years. Same with any other song six months after it’s big in this city–people move on quick.
And yet, by the end of the Rapture’s set of predominantly new material–so much more confidently played than at Crash Mansion, with such a better crowd of real to-the-day fans, no lookyloos, no Dirtbombs douchebags–when they finally played “House,” the room just pulsed in that vaguely dangerous but all-inclusive “Smells Like Teen Spirit” way anyone under 25 thought every rock show would/could/should be like after seeing that video. Most people never get to that show though; the dream fades, and they learn to cross their arms and sneer.
Meanwhile, the kid next to me has a broken foot or something, standing by aid of a hospital crutch, dancing and moving in the most awkward and contorted patterns. Jake the Snake is scrunching up his face the way he always does when things get intense on the dancefloor, flossing his feet with imaginary string. All the sudden a kid loses his glasses and within a split-second everyone’s hollowed out the region and flipped open their cell phones to help him find them–he found them, unbroken, and now he’s my friend on Facebook.
After the show Rapture bassist Matt Safer would jab at me, “So did the first song still sound like G. Love?” in reference to my one snipe on the band’s otherwise fantastic Crash Mansion show. But here’s the thing. G. Love and the Special Sauce may have been critically maligned since inception; the very concept of them has been so for even longer. But the city unequivocally loves this guy, has since “Cold Beverages”; Philly heros are few but not fickle’d.
Safer wanted to hear “No,” so I said that, mumbled something about early Dischord. But the better answer is yes, that night the Rapture sounded exactly like G. Love–and today’s heroless New York indie scene might never appreciate that.