Archives for posts with tag: Ben Greenberg

The Men

The promise of an excellent support slot from Parquet Courts probably had a lot to do with this show being a last minute ‘tickets on the door’ sell out. The opening band are currently riding on the success of last year’s Light Up Gold, an album that continued to gain momentum and find new successes earlier this year when it was picked up by bigger music websites. The band delivered on the promise and blasted their propulsive bare-bones rock at the Garage crowd, and recreated the album’s seamless transition between “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”. Their two guitarists/vocalists, Austin Brown and Andrew Savage, both sing with a manic delivery and when bassist Sean Yeaton joins in it’s like the band are singing along to their own set. Just seconds after they joke about failing to warm up the crowd for The Men they played an electric final two songs. During a solo-laden “Stoned and Starving” Savage left his screaming guitar propped against his amp, changed his stance, and delivered an intense reprise of the lyrics of “Light Up Gold” with a Patti Smith “Land”-like delivery, seemingly winning over anyone who was previously unsure.

There was a time when playing a venue called the Garage would have almost been apt for The Men, but the oppressive punk/noise/garage rock of their first two releases has pretty much been eclipsed by the recently released New Moon, which continues the expansion and mellowing of their sound that they started with 2012’s Open Your Heart. Both keep the grit of their earlier releases but hop frantically through rock and roll sub-genres, making the band increasingly harder to define. With such a wide range of sonic styles to choose from it was hard to guess exactly what this set was going to entail. They’ve gained a reputation of playing very little songs from their current albums, instead opting to play sets of predominantly new material. This has always made them seem slightly out of sync with their audience, it’s nice to hear new songs but people mostly just want to hear what they know. This is an obvious problem that their relentless and constantly developing song writing and recording regime has caused.

With all these things considered, it was a definite surprise when pianist/organist/vocalist Marc Perro began playing the opening bars of “( )” from Leave Home. He played it as the rest of the band slowly arrived and joined in, until drummer Rich Samis showed up and hurled them into the song with a vicious snare roll. The choice to open with the oppressive punk of Leave Home can be read as an attempt to stop the bellyaching amongst that album’s biggest fans, who feel isolated and disappointed by The Men’s more recent output. But it was probably played just because it was an instant dose of frantic and pulverising rock and roll music. They quickly abandoned any theoretical appeasements and mostly left Leave Home’s mega fans in the dust. They only returned to the album once, with a rubbery and motorik take on “Night Landing”.

After the noisy dramatics of “( )” they delved deep into New Moon with the whiskey-sweat-sentiment of the heart pumping “Half Angel Half Light”, and then delivered two of its best pop cuts in the form of “Without a Face” and “Freaky”. A rallying “Turn It Around” filled in the pit, which had previously been spacious and violent. The crowd in general was surprisingly varied considering the band is named after a gender. A slamming version of the Open Your Heart title track featured a raucous guitar solo from Ben Greenberg, good enough to make you wonder why he didn’t move over to the instrument from bass sooner. He made the switch when The Men recently changed their live setup, and bass duties are now handled by Kevin Faulkner who is credited as a lap steel player on New Moon. Their ability to switch around and the lack of a frontman may suggest a sense of anonymity in their band, but it just adds to their varied approach to music, and each singing member’s voice is distinctive and great, even if they’re slightly less capable than other members.

A piano interlude was possibly there just to kill time and mask the sound of the other members tuning, but by its end the full band had come together and they segued into “I Saw Her Face” with a light country jam. The song was extended to Crazy Horse levels and as they moved to Samis’ heavy bass drum; they played biting guitar licks and traded solos. Faulkner was also wearing a 2009 Neil Young tour t-shirt, providing a good indicator of the song’s influence for those who couldn’t effectively use their ears. It was a piece of crushing folk rock, with a galloping punk outro, all whilst being contrasted with Perro’s clear piano keys.

Nick Chiericozzi brutalised his throat on lead single “Electric”, as he tried to match the high octane guitar harmonies for volume, but he quickly recovered for the crooning “Candy”, which was scored with bottleneck guitar licks. They ended their main set with “The Brash”; Greenberg shouted and threw his mic stand to the floor after the first verse, matching the energy of the song’s devastating riff. For their encore they tried yet another style with the unabashed gritty Americana of “Bird Song”, which allowed Perro to add harmonica blasts while Greenberg ripped a showy guitar solo.

“We want dancing baby!” Chiericozzi requested whilst preparing for a song they described as being “very new”. It sounded almost like a shredding take on boogie woogie, complete with a tinkling piano solo. They played it with the house lights half up and ending it with Chiericozzi’s fun, panicked and repeated shouts of “We gotta go!”. It was of course another venture into a new area of rock and roll for The Men, but it still hit like a side swipe. It was a fun sampling of their future material that capped off a set of familiar and crowd pleasing songs. They hit all of the high points from their already extensive discography, and showed that when it comes to rock and roll, they can kind of do anything.



The Men New Moon

Over the course of four studio albums The Men have established themselves as one of Rock’s most versatile bands. After the gnashing Punk/Noise Rock of 2010’s Immaculada and 2011’s Leave Home, they gave up on sticking to one style per album. Last year marked a turning point in their short career when they released Open Your Heart, their most varied and emotionally bold album that was one of the year’s best. Their newest release New Moon follows just under a year after, and features songs that they have been playing from before even the 2012 album was released. It mostly presents a further mellowing of their sound, but then hits you with some of their harshest material. They commit fully to the abandonment of any concept of a constant thread within their music, and with no primary songwriter or lead singer to paint as a frontman the Brooklyn five-piece seem like a true band. Apart from their drummer, Rich Samis, every member takes a stab at singing, offering a variety of voices that range from great to capable.

This looseness has become The Men’s key component, and on New Moon they switch from fun Garage Rock grinding, to intense Krautrock oppression. The piano chords of opener “Open the Door” might make Leave Home mega-fans violently rage vomit over their record players. As it starts the album with more of a polite knock than a frame splintering kick. It’s a straightforward and pleasant acoustic song, which begins to make sense once it’s revealed to work as a build up to the aggressive radio rock of “Half Angel Half Light”. Which bursts with melody straight out of the gate, due to Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro heart-pumping joint lead vocals. Through a sunny acoustic guitar line and a verse-chorus structure that doesn’t waste a second, it conveys a love of radio rock that is as joyous as Jonathan Richman’s love letter to it.

A spirited refrain of “when your heart beats true” elevates “Without a Face”, and its harmonica blasts reveal a deep Folk Rock influence. Their east coast origins and Folk Rock leanings may welcome, encourage, and force comparisons to the Heartland Rock of Bruce Springsteen. But the brand of murky folk they play on “I Saw Her Face” is closer to the rawest albums in Neil Young’s long discography. The song’s front section is led by thick sluggish folk guitar and Perro’s harsh but tuneful croon. He harmonises wonderfully with bassist Ben Greenberg for the title line before the band snap into place for an excellent solo section and tempo bludgeoning outro. This aggressive form of folk rock is just another example of The Men’s music bearing a distinct love and reverence for the Classic Rock repurposing of The Replacements. Even The Men’s discography seems to be aping the sonic and melodic changes that occurred in the three short years between the releases of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Let It Be.

New Moon is a very American Rock and Roll album, and it unabashedly embraces this with the “Like a Rolling Stone” piano and harmonica on “Bird Song”, a ragged Rock and Roll Hall of Fame styled slice of Americana. “High and Lonesome” is a slow sunset instrumental that is perfect for the plains. It seems to be building to something but The Men pull and shred the rug from under you instead with “The Brash”, a punk rock vortex with disorienting grunge riffs and duelling guitar solos. Before you can regain your footing they hit you again with the compressed crash cymbals and melodic buzzing thunder of lead single “Electric”. As a digital album the switch from gentle country instrumental to bone rattling ‘pop’ is kind of a sharp and unexpected, akin to crashing into a canyon during a leisurely drive. But as an LP, with a pause and a change of sides separating the two tracks, “High and Lonesome” becomes the perfect wind down and “The Brash” the perfect kick off, causing The Men to score a victory for the vinyl record and in turn strengthen their classic rock ties. But when taken as a list of MP3s, the album’s sequencing is basic, and it could be listened to on shuffle without losing much.

The variety of songs is great but the lack of flow is kind of a disappointment, because it seems like The Men have a truly great rock record within them. The songs are excellent but New Moon feels more like a singles collection, rather than their version of The White Album or Led Zeppelin III. Nothing shows the disparity in the album more than its two closers do. The quick shot “Freaky” moves with a loose pop beat and peaks with a brief rich-toned guitar solo, but “Supermoon” is an eight minute noise rock odyssey with an oppressive thrashing sway that is stuffed with squealing guitar. It beats its way into your skull and brings the album to a punishing conclusion.

The Men may have mellowed their sound, but their capricious approach to rock has made them even more unpredictable than they were as a snarling-lung-hacking Noise Rock band. They seem to have an ‘anything goes as long as it Rocks’ approach when they’re writing their excellent songs, and on New Moon they keep you guessing at what style they’re going to channel next, as they do their best shambolic impressions of a million different types of rock music.