Xylophones, tambourines, and face-paint: “This feels like a motherfucking talent show,” griped Yeasayer frontman Chris Keating at the kickoff for their joint tour with Man Man Friday night. Though maybe it was the austere interior of Fort Greene’s Masonic Temple that was bothering him, or the glaring stage lights that he railed against on more than one occasion. Frankly, the tambourines were a hit–Kid-Rock-look-alike Ira Wolf Tuton was slapping one against his chest when he wasn’t laying down lines on his fretless bass, and the sincerity with which he did so was undeniably charming. The guy epitomizes the staid, unpretentious rocker, and is also the proud owner of one of the more enviable names in modern rock. And those aviator-looking things dangling from his neck? Two fob watches. Tuton, king among men.
The band’s trademark gospel vocals and merciless drumbeats intersected perfectly on “Sunrise,” which saw bespectacled drummer Luke Fasano silhouetted against a flaming projection screen, punishing his drum kit like a red-headed stepchild while the rest of the band howled like wolves under a harvest moon. If there’s one thing that can be said for Yeasayer, they’re tight as one of Fasano’s snares–most notably on the vocals, for which the entire band pitches in for a unified, almost CSNY-like effect. Add that to the Zappa-like images floating across the screen behind them, and you’ve got an act that echoes some of the more psychedelic moments in twentieth-century music, while adding its own Middle-East-inspired strains.
Whatever harmonious precedent Yeasayer established was quickly dispatched by the Man Man hooligans, who stormed the stage wearing war paint and garbed in all white like a troupe of maniacal Santeros auditioning for a spaghetti western. They brought with them three keyboards, two xylophones, and a smattering of drums, pots, pans, saxes and guitars, all of which they clustered around the center of the stage and proceeded to flagellate violently for the next hour or so. How the band manages to produce that intricate saloon-klezmer sound while putting on such a rollicking, action-packed performance is something of a mystery. While not spanking out honky-tonk tunes on his Rhodes Piano, pointman Ryan Kattner (a.k.a. Honus Honus) was leaping off amps and baptizing himself out of a metal bowl: a fitting closing ritual for two oddly spiritual performances.
All in all, gentleman, a fine opening to what’s sure to be a whirlwind tour. May the winds of fortune speed you on your way. One caveat, though–whoever okayed the idea to play only “Kokomo” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” during the set change was out of their mind. Affable Brooklynites can stomach twenty straight minutes of loudening Bobby McFerrin without resorting to violence, but if you pull a shenanigan like that in Dallas, someone’s getting shot. Fair warning.