Before any bands played, DJ Sl8er and Piper Rose, the dynamic duo behind Titwrench, played a variety of records that could loosely fit into the context of dance music, if you go back just over thirty years, including some Joy Division and Tones On Tail. At one point, Piper, dressed in a sailor suit, got some people on the dance floor to dance on her command -- which was a set of movements more creative than line-dancing.
One thing you can say for a MEN show: the outfit attracts a mixed crowd. There were people from various walks of life who were either fans of JD Samson's old band, Le Tigre or that enjoy music that embodies the spirit of liberation that band stood for. That's the crowd that welcomed Denver's Hideous Men. Ryan McRyhew addressed the issue of the names of both of the bands with a electronically manipulated voice that made everyone laugh.
Hideous Men's set was made up of mostly older material, but chances are, most of the people at the show didn't know the band's material very well, and those of us who did, sure didn't mind enduring those songs once again. If stuff that draws tons of people to arenas or large clubs can be said to be dance music, Hideous Men is making that sort of thing more relevant for people who prefer a more personal, real, intimate musical experience, mainly because the sound of this duo is incredibly well crafted experimental, electronic pop, and it's done in such a way that it sounds like the two are making it up on the spot.
With a swirl of sounds that could be haphazard in other hands, Hideous Men played songs that drew you in to a vision of a better world where people don't feel the need to exploit others and where everyone realizes their own self-worth -- all while recognizing the psychic pain and anguish you often endures when giving up ideas and lifestyles that are inherently self-destructive and not conducive to your full development. That is, if you listened to the lyrics alone.
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But the gentle wash of electronic sounds over thick rhythms present in most of the band's material is a cleansing of the ears and, thus, of the mind. On the surface, Hideous Men make fun, playful, sometimes melancholic and dreamy music, but the whole package is transformative without the invasiveness of overblown rock and roll. There's a time and a place for that but Hideous Men followed their own path to making a special experience for its audience, by making the kind of music that even seems important to play in the first place. This Men band closed its set with a cover of Le Tigre's "Keep On Livin'" -- which JD Samson watched and even moved to a bit.
When MEN were here last, it was still kind of a fledgling band. But any and all signs of being a newer band -- rather than kind of a DJ project -- were gone. Michael O'Neill of Ladybug Transistor was still on stage on guitar, but the big surprise of the night was seeing Tami Hart on stage playing bass and guitar. Who is Tami Hart? Look her up. Around ten years ago she wrote great pop songs about heartbreak and betrayal that made the rounds among the kinds of people who were also into Elliott Smith and his raw emotional disclosure before his death made his music fashionable.
Before the show started, O'Neill assembled a pink triangle out of what looked like pink PVC pipes and bicycle helmets comprising each corner. When the band took the stage again after setting up, each member lifted the triangle into the air and put on the helmets and started the set that way. Before the song was over, Piper Rose and others got on stage and helped to lift that contraption off the band and on to the side of the stage. The fact that it was a pink triangle and the band is named MEN was probably a statement of some kind and a joke, but it also worked simply as a great piece of theater.
The politically-charged songs of MEN manage to carry some heavy lyrical content, without being heavy-handed. If anything, the sentiments were poetic but very direct in their intentions. "Credit Card Babies" was about reproductive freedom in a larger sense. "Off Our Backs" was a humorous and fun denouncement of the mutual oppression people play on each other in various social situations and in relationships -- among other things. "Boom Boom Boom" addressed the paradox of how so many working class men build the guns while others get to go to war and die.
And yet, Samson is not someone you can pigeonhole in any way as a lyricist and songwriter, something stated more explicitly in "Make it Reverse," in which Samson sings how she isn't just gay. Meaning, no one is just one thing, nor is the identity of anyone really just sexuality or race or gender or anything. Stating it simply, Samson suggested to us all that none of us is just that one thing.
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Samson engaged the audience throughout with dry, witty, yet playful, banter, and she told us in the beginning how the band ran across a tumbleweed when it crossed into Colorado, and they brought the tumbleweed with them on stage. Samson threatened that "Mrs. Tumbleweed" would dance if we were lucky. Turns out, Mrs. Tumbleweed did indeed dance for a bit in the middle of the show. After a lively and energetic set of nine songs, MEN treated us with a cover of their own: Bikini Kill's "Double Dare Ya." The whole show couldn't have ended on a more appropriate note.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Bias: Still a Le Tigre fan. Random Detail: Ran into Doug Spencer of Snake Rattle Rattle Snake and Katherine Peterson, who used to do the Radio 1190 Local Shakedown program, at the show. By the Way: The new MEN album, Talk About Body, came out in February.