Mannequin Men LIVE review by Luc Rodgers

Music Reviews
Mannequin Men LIVE review by Luc Rodgers
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Jan 22, 2008, 16:03

Mannequin Men - Fresh Rot
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MANNEQUIN MEN at Abbey Pub, Chicago, IL; January 18, 2008

As Kevin Richard whines, “Did you know that I had a long story and a couple of girlfriends behind me?” (from “Private School” on Fresh Rot), the complete package of this band can be surmised. Snotty, probably intoxicated, egotistic, sexy, and honest. The Mannequin Men hail from the lovely Chicago, Illinois, and have garnered much attention for their brand of punk (think Wire-smarts with a Clash-sneer) and live show (one critic hailed it as “all good, in the pee-off-a-bridge-onto-your-ex-girlfriend's-car-while-she's-on-her-way-to-a-Cameron-Diaz-movie-with-that-new-fucker way”), and for good reason. They are snotty. They are drunk. They are infectious. They are not the second coming of a new wave of punk rock. In the end, it is still just punk rock. Good punk rock.

Taking their hometown stage on a blustery night (wind chill rested at a jaw-dropping-off –15º below zero), the electricity in the room was evident. Homemade Mannequin Men T-shirts popped up sporadically in the nest of antsy friends and fans. Well-wishes and greetings were everywhere; these people, these fans, having not seen each other since the last Mannequin Men show, further boosting the enigma that that this band seems to evoke. “This is really something,” a newcomer like myself can't help but think…but can anything, especially at this level, live up to such hype?

As they took the stage, a short dedication to the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team led into the first strum which, unsurprisingly, unleashed a wave of energy throughout the room. Aged punk rockers alongside the young ones pumped fists and yelled along with lines like, “Kiss my face/Then kiss my ass” (from “We Are Free”), shared smiles and cheers, and completely surrendered to the music. It was an hour of classic punk rock giddiness, and every person seemed elated and confident in these Mannequin Men…but what if all these people weren't here? How is the band actually doing?

The band's energy level was high…well, Kevin's (vocals/guitar) was. Ethan D'Ercole (guitar) and Rick Berger (bass) lost themselves in the music, yes, but remained motionless, save for the smiling, nodding head. Drummer Seth Bohn commanded attention with a full, thunderous stomp but the spotlight remained on Kevin, a seemingly natural front man, albeit trying pretty hard to be as sexy as a punk rock singer can be. As he asked between songs, “I don't know how many of you know us, but tell us what you wanna hear,” one wonders whether it is a genuinely innocent question or if he is just playing up the fact that everyone there knew exactly who they were. With a cocky strut and a do-no-wrong swagger, he evoked a less-brave Iggy, a young, drunk Mick Jagger, and the stereotypical tortured artist (complete with fit-throwing arm motions and I-want-my-way stomps). Obviously carrying the burden of being the lone showman, Kevin hissied and huffed in an attempt to put on a devastating show but, unfortunately, as the show went on, it became more obvious and humorous with each dramatic twirl.

Attempted showmanship aside, the instruments played extremely well together. The songs, in the live setting, were more raw, rambunctious, and pissy than the cleaner-sounding record. Yes, this is where the focus should be, the songs. And they're good. Really good. Obviously written with little or no regard for the listener, each number is exactly as they want it, and rightfully so. To attempt to please the masses with your hammerings and thoughts is to shut out the real fans, the ones searching for honesty and pure, reckless abandon. The songs are patient releases of genuine ability, complete with shout-alongs, memorable lines, and solos that are simple enough to be sandwiched into a true punk rock tune. Clean, agitated guitars swimming with walking, simple bass lines and driving drums form pushy, fuck-you anthems straight into the head and heart (most notably “Pattern Factory,” “Mattress,” and “We Are Invisible”).

There is nothing new in the Mannequin Men, but that shouldn't mean that they can't be celebrated for what they are: a band with the classic sounds, excellent songs, and a following that will only grow with time and maturity. With so much hype about the live show one was expecting a true sense of danger, maybe even some vomit or blood. Mind you, this is not the case at all. They were a band, and only a band. They are not the saviors, nor the wild men that the print has promised, but with so much buildup, who can be? It is possible that with all the sucking up it's a little unfair to the Mannequin Men; who can possibly live up to being touted as “the next level”? Time will tell, though, and these Men have that on their side…their young age and talent have paved a promising future that a little more maturity can only nurture. See them, support them, and wish them well on what seems to be the valid beginning of a new face on the American music landscape.

-Luc Rodgers

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