With a perforated, paneled structure as its backdrop with lights shining through and strung along the top edge, ManCub started things off with a forceful flood of low end, and both Alex Anderson and Ethan Converse seemed to push themselves headlong into the music with absolute focus, intensity and fluidity at once. The opening had sampled vocals and didn't sound like something that band had on either of its EPs, but the guys followed that up with "8 Bit Crush" and its collision of screaming white noise and 8-bit sounds processed and warped beyond immediate recognition, subservient to the urgent flow of ManCub's rhythm.
As ManCub, Anderson had a powerful stage presence before, but with the addition of Converse, he has someone else that seems to match the passionate intensity of his performance, someone who is clearly unafraid to be caught up in the music and dance while also hitting the marks of the music perfectly -- all things Converse has cultivated and perfected in his other project, Flashlights.
During the set, ManCub did two covers: The first was a hyperkinetic, electro version of "Life During Wartime" by Talking Heads, which the duo made its own, and the second was the Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb On Me." With the manner in which ManCub has appropriated funk and R&B in the cauldron of sounds it freely throws into its mix, both songs made complete sense, and the outfit did the songs justice by making them even larger than life.
In the ten-song set, ManCub performed virtually all of Business Dogs, if not all of it including the hectic "Intelligent Eyes" and the vibrantly moody "Science." We were also treated to old favorites, including "8 Bit Crush," as well as the forceful melody and bass swells of "Made in Japan." The whole heightened reality of ManCub's set ended with "Don't Go Dying On Me." But before that, Anderson joked about how they would say this would be their last song and then stayed on stage for three more. ManCub, as was made clear by this show, has somehow taken the '80s synth music obsession of chillwave and given it some real backbone with its consistently strong and sonically varied low end.
Earlier in the night, a guy with a bank of two synths, a laptop and what looked like a sequencer/drum machine/sampler performed as Swim Club. This was apparently the guy's first show. In the music's rich textures and atmospheres, you could hear hints of early '90s Meat Beat Manifesto in the way he put together the sonic character of the beat in the sequencing, like industrial music with a far better dance beat and melody.
Real Magic played next, and Drew Englander told us he would be sitting in the corner doing a warm-up song or two. And so he played some less bombastic material on his synth and laptop, but by the third number, he told us he was done with "hanging out back there," and the set proper began. Englander isn't the guy to put forth a false and pretentious facade of objectivity into his show, and he is not afraid to look silly, to look the fool and to make people uncomfortable in the sense of taking another look at why they're not having as much as Drew seems to be.
For this show, he offered a mixture of the melancholy and the uplifting from song to song. One of his numbers included a doubling of the vocals that sounded oddly like a downtempo Erasure song. Before the fifth song, Englander told the crowd, "Move your bodies," and instead of waiting for that to happen, he came off stage and lead by example, and most people, to their credit, joined him. Englander has become much more skilled in getting people to join in on the whimsical aspect of the show. A lot of people try to pull off the naive spirit trick to get people to forget their inhibitions, but Englander actually executes better than most.
Personal Bias: I've thought ManCub was a force to be reckoned with from the first time I saw them over a year ago, and they've gotten even better.
Random Detail: Ran into Peter Washington of the Concerted Effort blog and Natasha Fortis of the Hi-Strung.
By the Way: The songs from Business Dogs are best experienced live but the recorded stuff stands well on its own.
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