On Thursday, February 24, I was excited to be at the Crocodile for Man or Astro-Man?, with the Octopus Project opening. I was unfamiliar with the Octopus Project, but they turned out to be a great match for Man or Astro-Man?. Both bands take inspiration from music of the ‘60s, with the Octopus Project drawing upon psychedelic rock and lounge music, while Man or Astro-Man? play punk-edged surf rock. And both bands make extensive use of a ‘60s-era space age theme to their costumes and stage set.
Indeed, the Octopus Project almost might have been thought campy, with the men (Toto Miranda, Josh Lambert, and Ryan Figg) in businessmen’s white shirts and black ties and the lady (Yvonne Lambert) in a ‘60s hairdo and dress. Plus, they had day-glo equipment cables and fluorescent designs on the onstage monitors, and they projected appropriately psychedelic animated videos with a late ‘60s/early ‘70s look.
Despite that, they did not really have a campy vibe, mostly because they took the music seriously and played with sincerity. Not to say they weren’t having fun, too—their Esquivel-crossed-with-Kraftwerk space-lounge rock couldn’t help but be fun, though they also had room for a fairly straightforward moody post-punk tune. Aside from one song, the set was all instrumentals, many of which featured Yvonne carrying the melody on theremin. A good theremin player is a delight to watch, and Yvonne’s strong confident gestures made it look very cool. The band also showed their multi-instrumental talents by switching off instruments occasionally. Their whole set was great and I was glad to discover them.
Man or Astro-Man? were on hiatus for most of the past decade, but in the past year the three founding members—known as Star Crunch (guitars and vocals), Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard (bass and electronics), and Birdstuff (drums)—have reunited to play some one-off shows and do some light touring. They were joined by “the new guy” Victor Vector on guitar, and later they made a point of introducing their support crew, including Phil Spectrum on the soundboard and Violet Ultra managing the video projections. Whereas the Octopus Project had a trippy-but-earthbound psychedelic theme, Man or Astro-Man? put the science into science fiction. The band was dressed in NASA orange flight suits (with visual tech Violet Ultra, off to the side of the stage, wearing a white one), and their stage setup included three screens, one being a portable parabolic dish, each with its own projection of classic sci-fi films from the ‘50s and ‘60s, mostly featuring outer-space scenes. I laughed aloud as Van Halen’s space-y “1984” synthesizer instrumental started playing, heralding the arrival of the band on stage.
In stark contrast to that futuristic sound and the outer-space/science fiction theming, Man or Astro-Man? played down-to-earth guitar-driven surf rock. I was particularly excited when they played “Destination Venus,” one of my favorites from their 1994 album Destroy All Astromen!, but I did feel they could have used a little more variety in the set, instead of playing just the fast and furious songs. Also, curiously, they used far fewer audio samples from sci-fi films than I expected, going through several songs at a time before dropping a sample in. Still, they kept up the energy and excitement for the highly enthusiastic audience. And whether men or astro-men, there was no doubt that they were consummate showmen, which they proved with a climactic theremin battle.
This no-holds barred duel pitted the cool and controlled musicianship of the Octopus Project’s Yvonne against the wild antics of Coco and company, including Star Crunch deliberately jostling Yvonne and both Coco and Yvonne holding their theremins out over the audience. The battle concluded with Coco literally setting his theremin aflame in a bold bid for victory—to no avail, as Birdstuff judged that Star Crunch’s interference disqualified Team Coco and Yvonne was declared the champion.
More bands need theremin battles, but few could deliver one so entertaining. Although technical difficulties spoiled their intended finale as the Tesla coil failed to perform on demand, that would’ve just been the corona on an already electrifying show.