The Ghosts of Saturday Night: Man or Astro-man? Live From Sons of Hermann Hall

Man or Astro-man? Sons of Hermann Hall Saturday, December 17, 2011

Better than: Having amoebas eat through your brain.

A snippet of conversation overheard before the Man or Astro-man? show:

"I'm really freaked out about Neti pots right now."


"Well, I read this story about people dying from using tap water in them, instead of distilled water. And tap water has amoebas in it."


"So the amoebas will eat through your brain and kill you."

Google tells me this happened twice recently in Louisiana, but I bring up this horrifying anecdote because it was such an appropriate primer for the evening. I used a Neti pot a week ago, so my paranoia was at Cronenberg levels for openers Mind Spiders.

I'd last seen the Denton group, fronted by former Marked Man guitarist Mark Ryan, at SXSW this year, but they've gotten tighter and more focused. Meltdown, the follow-up to this year's self-titled debut, drops in February on Dirtnap, so the five-piece trotted out some of the new stuff, like two-minute gum-snapper "You Are Dead." Meltdown goes into some cool Krautrock territory, namely the closing title track, but on stage they stuck to the shoulder-shakers. They were here to open for Man or Astro-man?, after all.

And what to say about that alien collection of Southern sci-fi misfits? There was a healthy crowd for a group that largely existed on the fringes of 1990s underground music and doesn't have any discernible "hits." But retro-futurism is en vogue again, and after a decade floating around in space, the Alabama-bred quartet has emerged intact.

Sons of Hermann was really the perfect setting for their reemerging, and opener "Inside the Atom" was a nice reintroduction to their Devo-informed instrumentals, backed by three screens of psychedelic visuals. In the 1990s, their fusion of New Wave and surf-punk was rather unique. Since then, it's been done, just not very well or too seriously. Thankfully they haven't lost their sense of humor. Some highlights:

"The last time we were here was '86 with the Toadies."

"There's always one guy in the mosh pit who thinks he's at a Stormtroopers of Death show."

"The only bassline I know is 'Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.' Primus stuff is actually pretty easy."

Sounds about right. Drummer Brian Teasley, code name Birdstuff, once wrote an open letter to Kenny G for Atlanta's premier snark Bible, Chunklet. A friend texted me after the Austin show to relate MoA's claim that Dallas is "where rockabilly went to die" and that everyone has a coffin-shaped bass here. If anything, MoA is a study in tongue-in-cheek; of not taking music too seriously.

Singer/multi-instrumentalist Rob "Coco" Del Bueno was a bolt of energy, leaping across the stage in his red jumpsuit and helmet. Guitarist Brian Causey, code name Star Crunch, had apparently cracked his rib in Austin the night prior, but carried on, augmented by a second female guitarist. By "Maximum Radiation Level," the quartet was fully oiled.

A goddamn Tesla coil was lugged on stage for the closing number. It's got to be really hard to tour with a Tesla coil. No word if this tour was just a reunion or if it signals new material, but they blew through the 18 song-set with more ecstatic fury and volume than most bands I've seen this year, save for Swans back in February.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: Maybe it was the amoebas talking, but Man or Astro-man? has aged handsomely.

By the way: The lady guitarist's grandmother played Theremin on "Principles Unknown."

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Audra Schroeder
Contact: Audra Schroeder