HEAD BANGER’S BALL: Man Man, Download Fest, Susquehanna Center, Yesterday
BY DAVE ALLEN The Download Festival came to the Susquehanna Bank Center on Saturday and boy are my ears tired. Louis XIV, a punkish quartet with the elemental stab of AC/DC, played to a sparse, disinterested crowd in the mid-afternoon. Lead singer Jason Hill brought some swagger and reverse windmills on guitar, and the set took on an arena-friendly sheen when guitarist Brian Karscig moved over to keyboard on “Finding Out True Love is Blind.”
The setup for Philly homeboys Man Man promised something different: keyboard and drum kit facing at center stage, with stands of bells, xylophones, more drums and another keyboard clustered close behind. The quintet played with a locked-in intensity, and its straightforward set (no announcing song titles, no interaction with the crowd) was filled with screams, chants and shouts from four vocalists, often verging on a kind of freaky, Dadaist happening. The players veered amid tight grooves, driven by bass and drums and punctuated by horns, and spastic chaos, including five-drummer freakouts and fusion-jazz skronk from the horn players. After lead singer Honus Honus rose from his keyboard stool to don a metallic black jersey and a gold headband, he strutted and flailed around as he sang, a vertical expression of the band’s feverish yet focused style.
Mutemath played some of the same multi-drummer tricks, but their spacey, atmospheric sound never caught fire in the same way. Singer-keyboardist Paul Meany immediately established himself as the Harry Connick, Jr. of alt-rock, sitting stationary at the keyboard and standing blandly with his Keytar. Texas-based electro duo Ghostland Observatory got off to the most exciting start of the evening, as singer Aaron Behrens, all swinging pigtails and swiveling hips, delivered a yowling falsetto over buzzing Kraftwerkian synths operated by caped conjurer Thomas Turner. The endurance test that the first few songs promised became a test of patience in the second half of the set; Behrens seemed to have oozed so much sex he was left statuesque.
The Festival’s highlight, Iggy and the Stooges, brought a late-evening surge in attendance. The Asheton brothers anchored the vintage crash-and-bang – guitarist Ron, in particular, shredded and slashed with impressive vigor – along with bassist Mike Watt. Iggy was a slithery dynamo, all id and no shirt, as he flapped his arms like a Pterodactyl, gyrated and twirled in air. He sang with an edgy sneer and demanded that audience members be let on stage, declaring “This is a dance!” With fans dancing behind him, “1969” and “Fun House,” among others, were a giddy, unhinged thrill. For someone whose idea of fun is killing everyone, Iggy was strangely affirmative, opening the set by saying, “We believe… in you,” and exhorting the audience near the end to “try to be yourself! No one cares!”
Mr. Osterberg and his Stooges clearly influenced the earlier acts – Louis XIV’s garage-bred chops, Man Man’s batshit insanity, Ghostland Observatory’s tight pants and gender-bending dance moves—leaving the evening’s closing act, the Killers, as the odd band out. Dapper lead singer Brandon Flowers showed some impressive pipes, but the large banks of lights left him and guitarist Dave Keuning with little room to maneuver. Drummer Ronnie Vannucci brought slick disco and booming fills with equal skill, but the set felt like a cranked-up jukebox with a bigger light show. Of the arena-filling favorites, a reimagined version of “Smile Like You Mean It,” with Flowers on piano and the synth hook played on violin, showed the greatest imagination.