I know we’re all a little jaded when it comes to reformed bands of yesteryear, and I realize it’s old hat to marvel at the necromantic power of the internet and its globalized fan bases to resuscitate underappreciated groups of past decades , but still, I’m a little nonplussed that the new Man or Astro-Man? LP didn’t receive more attention when it was released last summer.
Not only was Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 overlooked by the humble site you’re reading now (though we covered their set at Psych Fest 2013), but it was also denied the review treatment by “the essential guide to independent music,” which more or less entails that it doesn’t really exist. And this is a shame, because their first album since reuniting in 2010 is no mere nostalgic regression to the already “hyper-nostalgic” sounds of Is It … Man Or Astro-Man? and Experiment Zero. To give it my capsule review, it’s freaking ace, so it’s a good thing Tiny Mix Tapes got the chance to make amends, sending me all the way to a country none of us had ever heard of before, where I watched the quartet detonate their spaceage circus before a captive and impeccably sober audience.
Touching down to the anticipatory techno of “Defcon 4,” the Astromen said hello by immediately flinging themselves “Inside the Atom” with characteristic neglect for earthly standards of restraint. Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard may not have beamed down with them, but the Alambamian’s didn’t want for energy or exuberance, twitching and rushing around the small Swiss stage to the point where taking a non-smeared photograph was an impossibility. With their famed banter kept to an efficient minimum, they sped from one turbo-charged, uranium-soaked bombardment to the next, their selection balanced perfectly between older and newer cuts, ranging all the way from a scalding “Invasion of the Dragonmen” to a punishingly moody “Antimatter Man.” That said, their patented crowd interaction made the occasional appearance, since after a particularly rowdy version of “Sferic Waves” Birdstuff jumped into the crowd with a mic, handed it to some bearded and dreadlocked cheesemonger, and coaxed the guy into producing an indescribably profound hum for several seconds.
Then he announced that the band were to going to play “Aunt’s Invasion” by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, at which point I mouthed a silent thank-you prayer to the Almighty, Steve Jobs. Without wanting to detract from the evil genius of Man Or Astro-Man?, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet are so great even Rod Stewart himself could come out, play one of the Canadian trio’s numbers, and then get back to his personal mission of euthanizing music, and it would still be one of the greatest gigs ever. And if their alive and affectionate rendition wasn’t enough, MOAM? topped it off with “Man Made of CO2,” which sounded no less crazy than its recorded template and yet all the more snappy and virile.
Things only became more energetic from there, with “Defcon 5” from the newie and “Maximum Radiation Level” from Experiment Zero being two simultaneously gleeful and intense highlights. Even 20 years after their debut, Man Or Astro-Man? exist in a dimension unto themselves, apart from any single rock scene or domain that might potentially dilute the novelty and impact of their sci-fi surf rock by reproducing it ad nauseaum. Of course, it could be argued their anachronistic “goofiness” has prevented them from ever representing modern life as it unfolds for millions of people, in all its pettiness and gritty detail, but it also could be replied that it’s precisely their seeming detachment from reality that makes the whole MOAM? aesthetic so pure and potent.
Either way, Star Crunch, Birdstuff, Avona Nova, and Victor Vector never let up from start to finish, with the noisy Vaudois crowd lapping up every second of their kinetic freakshow. After Birdcrunch praised a short, dancing guy in front of me for having a well-shaped head (seriously), they rounded off their set (and the European leg of their tour) with the Venusian one-two of “Destination Venus” and “Transmissions from Venus” before a final salvo of “Special Agent Conrad Uno” saw Nova dive into the pit with her guitar, much to delight of fools with cameras and the arm-waving chap she’d accused of flashing her halfway through the performance. And like the gentle astro(wo)men they are, the four-piece capped this overspilling closer by trashing their equipment, leaving us all with stupid grins on our faces as we were transported safely back to Earth.
[Photo: Baron von Kissalot]
00: Defcon 4
01. Inside The Atom
02. Evil Plans of Planet Spectra
03. Anitmatter Man
04. Put Your Finger in the Socket
05. Planet Collison
06. 9 Volt
07. Sferic Waves
08. Aunt’s Invasion (Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet cover)
09. Man Made of CO2
10. Invasion of the Dragonmen
11. Defcon 5
12. Maximum Radiation Level
13. Escape Velocity
14. Name of Numbers
15. Televsion Fission
16. Destination Venus
17. Transmissions from Venus
18. Special Agent Conrad Uno