By Andrew Hertzberg
Now that the buzz over Michael Cera being in Mister Heavenly has diminished, we can get a better look at what the Man Man / Islands / Modest Mouse members can do with the talents that have given all of their original groups such unique sounds. As all of the previous bands can be defined by a sound that rates on the higher end of the quirky scale (well, older Modest Mouse at least, but Man Man and Islands for sure), Mister Heavenly is a more refined, even conventional outfit. Keyboardist Ryan Kattner is without his all white tennis uniform, facepaint and handlebar mustache he is so accustomed to wearing on stage with Man Man and Nick Thorburn from Islands (and previously the Unicorns) is just a very straight-laced, suspenders-wearing guitar player. Opening Sunday night at SubT with “I Am a Hologram,” the impression is already made that this is a more straight up rock and roll show. In fact, it only took until the eponymous second track they played that you could tell where their self-described genre of "Doom-Wop" comes from. Likewise, it is an interesting juxtaposition between Ryan's Tom Waits growl with Nick's more clean-cut vocals. Kattner hits the lower octaves on the keyboard to make up for the Cera-less bass and the drummer threw a maraca to the most enthusiastic crowd member in the front row (the kid was later awarded "Best Person Alive" by Nick; kudos).
Although a little lackluster at the beginning, the trio only built up the energy throughout the evening. Kattner began to add in some of the chaos and dissonance that he is known for in Man Man (where he is known as Honus Honus) and that energy met its climax five songs in during the bridge of "Reggae Pie." The track that started out as an ominous lounge-jazz/reggae jam erupted into a violent destruction of the keyboard, Kattner unable to contain himself, punching and sitting on the ivories; the song expressed an energy unexplored on the album version, even Joe Plummer letting loose from behind the kit. It was easily the highlight of the evening and the band did a great job of keeping the energy up. They followed with the Buddy Hollyesque '50s rock of "Charlyne," a cover of Cody ChesnuTT’s "Look Good in Leather" (despite none of the members proving it fashionably), and the cryptic "Diddy Eyes."
The set closed out strong with "Bronx Sniper," which not only has one of the best videos I’ve seen this year, but also prompted a few members of the audience to hop on stage at Subterranean, do a little dance and attempt to jump into the crowd and surf like they do in the moving pictures. Whereas most failed, one determined young man was successful during "Pineapple Girl," and you could tell the band was feeding off the energy. It’s very easy to be skeptical of "supergroups" as Mister Heavenly may be considered, but the guys do have a great artistic connection with each other, all while still retaining their individual voices.
As the band had already exhausted the entirety of their only album, this year’s Out of Love, Kattner returned to the stage by himself, donning a black Rodman jersey someone threw on stage earlier to play a solo track. He introduced it: “This song’s a real bummer so I dedicate it to all of you.” Allegedly, it was written on the spot in the green room. Not to be outdone, Plummer and Thorburn performed one of their own, before the group all came back together to cover "Hybrid Moments" by the Misfits, Kattner taking lead vocals, jumping into the crowd and starting a raucous pit. Free from the shackles of his keyboard stool, Kattner made sure the crowd poured every last ounce of energy onto the checkered SubT floor to close out the night.
Check out more show reviews:
Supreme Cuts, Memoryhouse, Balam Acab at the Empty Bottle
tUnE-yArDs at Lincoln Hall
Wooden Shjips at the Empty Bottle
Electric 6 at Double Door
Omar Souleyman at the Empty Bottle