Last night, KALX presented two ambitious east coast performers, Shilpa Ray and Man Man, for a sold out show at the Independent.
At 8:25 Shilpa Ray took the stage, sitting in front of an electric keyboard with her set list in one hand and a cup or red wine in the other. Without introduction, she sang the first line of “I Is What I Is” in her signature raspy tone, screeching out the lyric “For every poptart princess that goes batshit crazy, there’s apology, getting a public paddling.” Her voice fluctuated like an inebriated lounge singer mixed with a tinge of Patti Smith and Ella Fitzgerald, wavering back and forth between consonant and dissonant tones disclosed in her crafty lyrics. There’s a sweetness cut with an asperity that makes this Indian American born singer from New Jersey so sincere to her craft.
After her first song, she took to her harmonium, an instrument not so prevalent in spooky garage rock, and welcomed her band that she later dubbed “band of brunettes.” They thrashed through their set, kicking it off with the tune “Moshka,” an intimate and powerful tune questioning the ethics of organized religion. In Indian religions, Moshka translates to emancipation. As Ray sang the line “I’m your native girl with my tail between my bleeding ass,” there was a sense on anguish on her face, and when she sang the chorus she pleaded with urgency, “Pass me to sainthood. Where’s my pass?” Ray’s lyrics are bawdy but with purpose, and seeing Shilpa live illuminates an insight into her soul.
The energy was mostly upbeat, keeping the crowd engaged before the notoriously energetic headliners, Man Man, took to the stage. At one point someone in the crowd shouted, “she needs more drugs,” in which Ray declined the accusation, playfully responding by saying “meet me after the show.” Ray balanced her set well, incorporating some of her more pop driven tunes “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp” and “Shilpa Ray on Broadway” from her latest release, Last Year’s Savage. The crowd responded well and gave her a nice ovation as she left the stage.
Man Man, led by singer Honus Honus, has created a reputation for their vigorous and entertaining live shows. This night was no exception. The quartet, including backing members Pow Pow (Drums), Brown Sugar (Bass, Xylophone, Keys) and Shono (Guitar/High Pitched Backing Vocals) arranged on the stage with Honus Honus and Pow Pow facing each other in the forefront while Shono and Brown Sugar were raised on platforms behind them.
They wasted no time appeasing their loyal fans, reaching back to 2008 to start the show with the tunes “Top Drawer” and “Mister Jung Stuff” from Rabbit Habits setting the precedent for an eclectic set. The audience bobbed their heads as a bearded and longhaired Honus Honus bashed on the keys, half sitting and half standing, resembling a modern day Captian Beefheart. The band was stellar as Pow Pow’s drumming was efficient and impressive, while multi instrumentalists Brown Sugar and Shono added vocal harmonies, trumpet, xylophone and backing keys. They powered through a repertoire of astute and intelligent compositions, like the sixties do-op influenced “Piranha’s Club” from 2011’s Life Fantastic and the pop driven “Loot My Body” from 2013’s On Oni Pond.
Then things got a bit interesting. Honus Honus left the stage briefly, reappearing in a cumbersome blazer with a quote on the back that read, “An Alligator Ate the Baby’s Neighbor like a Now and Later and We be like…Whatever” before playing a few new songs. Honus Honus again left the stage for another costume change, returning adorned in a garish white fur coat before playing their biggest hit, “Head On (Hold On To Your Heart).”
As if the thrills of Honus Honus weren’t magnified enough, the most unexpected moment came when he started chanting the name, “Derrick,” getting the venue to join in as two strangers approached the stage. The venue went silent as ‘Derrick’ grabbed the microphone and pronounced his love for the awestruck woman who stood in front of him, gripping a cocktail. “I guess I should get on a knee,” he confessed as the crowd starting chanting and jeering. Through the noise and commotion, a feeble “yes” came out of the woman’s mouth. She flashed the ring to the audience, still in a bit of shock and the couple eloped off the stage.
Towards the end of the show, band members switched instruments, breaking into improvisational jams before leaving the stage. After a brief disjunction, Man Man came out for encore, playing the jazzy “Werewolf (on the hood of yer heartbreak)” from 2004’s The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, and ended with the quirky tune “Ice Dogs” from 2006’s Six Demon Bag, capping off a night of bewilderment- or normality by Man Man’s standards.
All photos by Kristina Bakrevski.