It was summer and we had just sat down at the perfect bar. Right in the middle of Chicago next to not-much-else sits this odd little place. Now I’m talking real little. The Matchbox truly earned its name with such a thin, slender construction. There’s three feet of space behind the bar, and three and one-half at best in the front, and the whole place narrows to the point that if you fell back from your stool (maybe after one too many of their signature ginger infused gimlets) the wall would catch you before you fell. There’s not much food aside from the Slim Jims they sell, but they pour a generous single malt, so who’s gonna complain. Sitting there soaking in this bizarre scene I suddenly became aware of something truly alien.
Surf-rock. They were playing surf-rock, but unlike any I’d ever heard before. It was surf-rock in space. The perfect soundtrack to some 50s B-movie about teen robots falling in love at an irradiated beach party; coming to you from director Roger Corman. Oh dear God there were theremins! It was instrumental aside from the occasional sample of 50s sci-fi dialogue; snippets from trash like It Conquered the World were peppered throughout these nostalgically futuristic rock songs. The only similar band I could connect it to stylistically was Brainiac (that most sacred of bands for me) and no amount of 50s kitsch could hide that this sounded like classic Touch & Go.
The bartender came over to me and my girlfriend asking if we needed anything else.
“I have to ask, what have we been listening to?” I said.
“Man or Astro-Man,” he said, smiling a little.
“That’s the name?” I asked.
“That’s the name,” he said.
I immediately looked them up and read some facts I already expected. They were in fact a Touch & Go band in the 90s produced by Steve Albini; however there were little things that made me realize how close this band was to me for years without my knowledge. They did such memorable theme songs as Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Jimmy Neutron. Furthermore they were memorably named dropped on Mystery Science Theater 3000, easily the biggest non-musical influence on these guys in addition to being a show that I would put my appreciation for on the scale of religious fanaticism. They were the band that main character Joel Robinson said he toured with as a pyrotechnics guy after his escape from the B-movie filled prison in space during season five. If that’s not rock music immortality then I just don’t know what is anymore.