New Moon

The Men, Live at Dante’s

There’s really no better way to cap a Record Store Day (or just a beautiful spring weekend in general) than to go to a tiny club and see a great young band just rip through a set.  We got that exact opportunity last weekend when we caught RIJR favorites The Men do a blistering one hour show at one of Portland’s great gems, Dante’s.  And our enjoyment was certainly not only due to our kind waitress, though she certainly helped.

Well, not tonight.  But the sign was correct when taken.

Well, not tonight. But the sign was correct when taken.

The night began with an anti-comedy duo that when Tim & Eric are ever properly brought up on charges for the terror they’ve inflicted on audiences will be presented as Exhibits (E) and (F).  Needless to say, at our first sight of a dilapidated ventriloquist’s dummy we were all of a sudden no longer perplexed as to why tables were still set up but instead grateful.  Grateful for the seating as well as the opportunity to procure various alcoholic beverages to make the “show” more “enjoyable” (for the record, since this is Portland, the beverages were IPAs and bourbons because we don’t believe in bullshit).   The next act, Nasalrod, featured a frontman that was simultaneously late-period David Lee Roth (thinning hair and a gut) and early-period David Lee Roth (doing flying leg-kicks and stage-diving).  I remember nothing specific about the music, except that it was loud, not-melodic, and full of energy, which was perfect for the setting.  Gun Outfit provided a nice change of pace, with actual songs, and now I am reminded that I should probably look up more of their stuff because they were quite good.

We had caught The Men before at the very same venue during MusicFest NW last fall, but with a new record out we were anxious to hear how different their set would be.  Whereas last time New Moon featured heavily and allowed the band to stretch a bit, including an extended-version of “I Saw Her Face” that opened the show, Saturday night was a take-no-prisoners run that went through the majority of Tomorrow’s Hits.  For all the fans that bemoaned how the band had changed their sound to be, for lack of a better word, more “polished”, this performance was a stark rebuttal from the band.  The Men upped the tempo, cranked up the amplifiers, and blasted through raucous versions of “Going Down”, “Pearly Gates”, and even the shuffling “The Dark Waltz”.  And for those wondering how the band would replicate some of the cool horn parts, a couple of guitar pedals were apparently all that were necessary to recreate the fun stomp of “Another Night”.

The curtains really add the right touch.

The curtains really add the right touch.

Sure, the mix was a little off, with the vocals buried way below all the guitars and keyboards; if you were unfamiliar with the new material, the set would have seemed to just run together.  Fortunately, it seemed that the crowd knew their stuff and sang along anyway.  And yes, it was loud as fuck, but at a show like this, that’s a feature and not a bug; we were informed by our waitress Brittney that at soundcheck it was the first time they had to tell a band to turn it down a little bit, and perhaps they didn’t fully understand the request.  It was a good thing we had worked out a system before the band took the stage so our drink orders were still heard.

Despite the crowd’s pleas for an encore, the band did not return, which makes the one that we received back in the fall a seemingly more unique experience, and the band’s surprise at our demand seem even more genuine.  Everyone still left buzzed and in good spirits, and I was glad to shake guitarist Nick Chiericozzi ‘s hand and congratulate him on a great show (once he finished downing his shot of tequila).  Let’s hope that this trend of quick return trips back to Portland continues.


Review: The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

Some bands take their time between albums and spend countless hours on crafting each sonic detail.  They think deeply about how each song fits within the general themes of the album.  Perhaps they also ponder how their latest release will fit within their oeuvre overall, and what kind of comment they could possibly be making on their genre or their industry as a whole.  Then there’s The Men, who see that it’s a new year once again, so that means it’s time to put out another album.

The underground punk roots of The Men still shine through in their sound as well as their prolific pace, and they have managed to keep that spirit alive even as their sound has evolved.  The days of the pure noise and cacophony of Leave Home are closer to becoming a distant memory, but The Men still believe in no-bullshit rock, even when they’re clearly bullshitting you (as seen in the lyrics to the opener “Dark Waltz” (which isn’t even a waltz): “My mom gave me this guitar in 1974, and it’s true”–a timeline that paints the band as being about a decade older than reality).  Over the course of the album, the band continues to play whatever strikes their interest, whether it be some Americana-influenced 80’s boogie, complete with backing horns (“Another Night”) or a winsome country-tinged ballad (“Settle Me Down”–a song that will probably make it the second year in a row that The Men will have released my favorite country song).  The standout track is “Different Days”, which manages the neat trick of morphing the keyboard line of “Walk of Life” into the hook of a blistering punk blast.

Everything about Tomorrow’s Hits gives the listener the feeling that they’re hearing a bar band playing a rundown of the  Most Played Songs of that dive’s particular jukebox, from the title itself to the neon light cover art.  The Men even look to their own recent material for inspiration, re-working the riff of “Half Angel Half Light” from last year’s New Moon into “Going Down”, exchanging the lo-fi swing of the former for more hard-charging straight-ahead rock.  Some older fans of the band will complain that they’ve softened or mellowed out since the Leave Home era, but as someone who was first introduced to The Men with the stellar Open Your Heart, I have no problem with the shifts in style within and between albums.  It’s not an issue that they’ve traded in Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth influences for Crazy Horse and Tom Petty, because no matter what it’s still clear that the band is having fun.

There’s a looseness and a joy to the music, even when they’re pushing the tempo or stepping back for some reflection.  It’s just a whole lot of…fun.  And while the title Tomorrow’s Hits is at most wishful thinking and most likely meant to be ironic and tongue-in-cheek, I would be glad if its prediction held true and I was getting a nice blast of “Pearly Gates” as I flip on my radio and hit the highway.

That said, what I find most amusing about The Men is the way that they’ve become the focus of a bunch of ridiculous thinkpieces for more than a few rock critics.  These listen to an album of straightforward rock, and then look at a no-nonsense band, and then think that they need to ask “What does it all mean?”  This is a band that has no social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), doesn’t print out a lyric sheet, have a name that’s practically useless to Google, and plays whatever style fits their mood at the moment–all this points to a group that really doesn’t give a fuck about “their place in the industry”.  You read reviews like this and you just have to wonder who the author is trying to impress with this pseudo-intellectual nonsense.  Just grab a beer and have some fun as the band decides to have some fun.