The Men at the Rickshaw Stop, 4/22/13

So I guess it’s weird to everyone else that I like The Men.

Sometimes I’m even surprised I like The Men. People never fail to voice their surprise when I tell them I’ve been loving the stuff they’ve been putting out for the last year and a half or so. I guess I get why – they’re probably thinking of The Men of records past; the barreling hardcore brewed on the Brooklyn noise scene. If that’s all you know of them, I guess that would be pretty weird to hear coming from me. I’m not exactly your typical post-punk consumer. For one, I’m a lady, and a pretty quiet one at that. One who has a desk job and who watches Jeopardy! almost every night and who buys most clothing based on how effectively they hide her tattoos. If we’re going by sweeping stereotypes here, people probably expect me to talk Taylor Swift or Rihanna or something when they ask about my taste in music. That’s what boring people listen to, right?

I’ve skipped out on The Men the last few times they’ve come to town because I just didn’t want to deal with the social aftermath. Revealing myself to be a Men fan would likely mean having to field several shocked reactions and patronizing “YOU like The Men?” comments, and I’d once again find myself awkwardly defending my own taste in music. It happens a lot, and it’s never not uncomfortable. It’s almost like having to defend my taste in, well, men. I like what I like, OK? It’s not like I have any control over it. Most days I’m all about paragon-of-masculinity Jon Hamm, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get blindsided by sweet-natured goofballs like Jason Segel every now and then…

Ahem. So anyway, I sucked it up and went to see them Monday night at The Rickshaw Stop.

If you knew nothing of The Men and contrasted their most recent record, New Moon, against some of their first recordings, I guarantee you you’d have trouble believing it was the same band. After living out another life as a hardcore noise outfit on the East coast, they switched up their sound, conquered SXSW, and emerged an entirely new band. They’re now more known for playing with genre like hardly anyone else working today, but still hold fast to their hardcore ethos.

You’d think this would have turned their former fan base against them – punks are famously protective of the sanctity of the genre, and any step toward a more mainstream sound is usually cause for a mass disowning. Nope. There were plenty of bearded, black-shirted, tattooed-forearm folk at The Rickshaw on Monday night who valiantly tried to rock out as they normally would to The Men’s now vastly varied catalog.

The show got started a little later than scheduled. Openers White Cloud, who would not be out of place in this town in, let’s say, 1968, provided a balanced beginning. Dressed in denim jackets, button-down flannels and Hawaiian shirts, they spread their psychedelic sounds out across a backdrop of some trippy black-and-white film that added an aura of chaos to the night and set an appropriately off-kilter tone to the evening (by the way, ‘Japanese film with women who turn into cats’ is now in my search history).

And then there was CCR Headcleaner. I had seen their name around and had a vague sense that there was something about them I was supposed to know; something they were notorious for. Two kerrangs in and there was no mistaking what it was: they’re noisy, they’re heavy as hell and goddamn they are loud. The kind of ribcage-rattling loud that turns your organs to soup. Loud enough to keep me clenching my already-TMJ-addled jaw throughout their entire set. Loud enough to seriously impede any chance I might have had of appreciating them.

The Men arrived next, and set about setting up like true pros — almost wordlessly, in what probably amounted to about 20 minutes. No sooner had they done a few ‘check-check-check’s of the mics, they dove right into a blazing set.

Opening with more polished pieces, they gradually moved into their more frenetic work. Naturally, they tore through all of it at breakneck speed, never once breaking for cute banter or to hawk their merchandise. It was tough to tell if that was because they were dead-serious about the show, were sick and tired of being on the road, or if that’s just something they wouldn’t do to begin with (my money’s on the last one). Either way, one song flowed into another, turning into a fine mess that the stoic crowd eventually came around to. In concert, The Men put out even more energy than in their already-raucous recordings. Newer, slower numbers got a tempo tweak to keep pace with their older work.

And oh yes, they were still loud, even with their liberal use of acoustic guitar throughout the night. My ears are still ringing as I write this nearly 16 hours later, and they’ll likely still be ringing as you read this tomorrow. But even though The Men came from a noise-heavy scene, they’ve straightened it all out into an intriguing swamp of everything that an electric guitar is good for, and that’s the kind of thing that makes a few days of fuzzy hearing all worth it.

However, their newer work and how much I dig it does make me wonder about myself. While the drums and power chords play a big part in last night’s show, the keys and a harmonica had a place as well. It all makes me worry that I’m becoming my dad. First stop The Men, next stop driving to the farthest reaches of the Bay Area to see obscure banjo-based folk bands at art and wine festivals.

The next day, as if to fulfill my own fate, I went out and bought a box of foam earplugs. For the next time I’m at a loud show.

Maybe that’s why people think it’s weird that I like The Men.

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