Extraordinaires reminded me of the Two Man Gentleman band back in NYC: old time ditties with four-part harmonies reminiscent of a barbershop quartet. The lead singer earned points for his awesome Eraserhead-ish flat top ‘fro, and also for playing a guitar shaped like a happy swordfish. The ditty-like songs, with their many bells and whistles (literally) made the whole thing more than a little vaudevillian, minus the balance Man Man manages to strike between sincere musicianship and kitsch. Some of the songs certainly got my toes tappin’, but not enough to keep me from sitting down with a beer to kill some time until the headliner.
Man Man was, as always, a whirlwind of demented greatness. A jail house gang of musicians dressed in white with beards of varying lengths and festively painted faces, emitting desperate noise like a vaudeville band held up at knife point. Everyone had a drum to bang on, and oil cans and other assorted bric-a-brac added to their junkyard orchestra. Maniacal xylophone made me think of skeletons dancing, and the singer added to the menacing carnival motif with his relentless, Waits-ian, blues man voice. Though they sometimes wander into Nightmare Before Christmas levels of cheese, the thing that differentiates them from their cutesy imitators is the fiendish intensity with which they play. Each drum hit, raspy syllable, trumpet burst and group chorus conjures up a carnival that only entertains because it actually wants to kill you.
Needless to say, the freaky/groovy Asheville kids were into it. They danced through several encores with the frenzy of so many white people about to riot. Or, as one performer put it, “someone left cocaine on the short bus.” Some might say this is a good description of Asheville in general, and I am sad to leave it. Beautiful rolling hills, hospitable hippie-punk houses, cheap rent, organic food, and plenty of party favors: it’s no wonder people who thought they were just visiting end up living here for years. This place is the island of the lotus-eaters. Our RV didn’t want to leave either, but we expensively extracted both it and ourselves from the muddy hills and were on our way. Maybe next time we won’t bother to go.