Following a spirited performance from Human Hair – an awkward but talented hardcore collective seemingly made up of nervous teenagers and a drunk Patrick ‘Titus Andronicus’ Stickles (nb: wasn’t actually him..) – unGoogleable Brooklyn four-piece The Men’s entrance onto the stage (we assume) inspired the same thought in most of the audience*: ‘Sweet Christ, these guys are young.’
Not Ice Age young, or even Bombay Bicycle Club young. Just way too goddamn young to be making music that so perfectly evokes an era that was on its way out before these guys hit double-digit age. To put things in perspective, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon just announced their impending divorce after TWENTY SEVEN YEARS of marriage. There’s no way The Men are any older than that (though their incredibly spotty web presence is giving nothing away on that front..).
And yet Leave Home, their third LP in as many years, is the best straight up, no fuss hardcore record in the style of that kind of late 80’s, early 90’s indie rock since.. maybe even The Argument. Refreshingly free of frills, padding and other such bullshit, it’s a well-oiled tactical missile of hardcore played so well that at times it almost borders on unbelievable; for the longest time I was convinced that the drum masters for Shittin’ With the Shah were being played at double speed.
Which is why the opening half hour of tonight’s set was kind of a let down. With only lead single Bataille (admittedly stunning here) representing Leave Home – the reason why, let’s be honest, most of the audience are here – the rest of the time was filled by numbers from other releases, seemingly selected because they sound like less urgent versions of the same song. At times, The Men ended up sounding like a double-time, ‘roided up pub band. It’s not any of this stuff was bad – it’s actually pretty fucking good – but it was getting tired way too quickly. Music this fast and powerful, and played so well, shouldn’t come this dangerously close to getting boring. Even the most exhilirating live acts can be fucked over by poor sequencing.
And then, a series of two note chimes, and the atmosphere in the room noticeably bristled as everyone recognized the drawn out intro to If You Leave, and realized we were about to see what happens when a small cabaret club in Soho is filled by a song the size of a planet. It doesn’t quite hold up live – how could it? – but fuck me, did it get the room going. That a band with media coverage this minimal can have a room full of people headbanging in unison (albeit that awkard kind of from-the-waist, indie headbang) is an achievement worth writing home about.
Everything works out just fine from here – other than the annoyingly long breaks in between songs to tweak the pedals – with a more varied set list and a few absolutely phenomenal numbers. Highlight of the night goes to the Spacemen 3 quoting ‘()‘ (no idea how it’s suppose to be pronounced, I’ve just been going with ‘Brackets’), Leave Home’s colossal centre piece. How it managed to sound even more momentous live is a mystery, but it managed to ignite the first Soho circle pit in recorded history, and so definitely happened. That aforementioned unbelievable musicianship was also in full display; guitars became third limbs, and the constant search for something that would keep the damn drums in place became a running joke.
So where next for The Men? Well, they certainly haven’t run out of ideas; maintaining their insanely crowded release schedule, The Men announced a new album, Open Your Heart, the very next morning, and the title track suitably stirred the blood when played tonight. Though it has to be said the show was a little disappointing, the fact that this was almost entirely down to a poorly ordered set list kind of brings the whole thing full circle until it’s actually very encouraging; they’re so good, they don’t have time to sort out a proper set list. Y’know, cos they’re so busy being really, really good.
*Except for the asshole who thought aloud ‘You’re so much better than that last band, they were shit’. Please, never be that guy.