Man or Astroman?

By Bob Bahr

Surf punk has a rough, crusty side with a macho attitude. Dick Dale is its hero. Far on the other side of surf is Man Or Astroman?, an Alabama quartet with its own isolated niche. Their fanciful music is heavily influenced by science fiction. In fact, they will spend exorbitant amounts of energy trying to convince you that they hail from another planet.

During an post-show interview some time ago, the four men (or astromen?) failed to convince this reporter of their cosmic origins, but they did convince me of this: as long as there are original thinkers, there will be original music. Man Or Astroman? is proof.

The Butchertown Pub was full the night Man Or Astroman? played. The sound was rawer and more urgent than the music on their records, which can range from a jazzy swing to an organ-dominated riff-fest. I asked lead singer/guitarist/sound biter Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard to describe their stage show. "We have thousands of dancing girls . . . but they are only THIS big," Coco said, indicating about a quarter-inch with his fingers.

Mmm hmmm. But the dancing girls didn't make up for the lack of farfisa organ, a despicable instrument that nonetheless puts the right amount of cheese on the Astroman? burrito — at least on records. Dexter, the band's bassist and designated tall guy, said simply, "We just didn't get it out of the van."

"We've got a couple excess organs waiting to get out of this band," Coco jumped in. "I hereby place this anatomical gift . . ."

In case you haven't noticed, a conversation with Man Or Astroman? means this: you will be the straight man for Coco's comic riffing. And you don't even have to say anything to get him started.

"Tonight was the first time we've ever played together," Coco offered with a straight face.

Then he qualified that statement — it was the first time the band had played together in the current lineup. Evidently, one "Dr. Deleto and His Invisible Vaportron" left the group, so Dexter took over bass and organ duties. Thus far, his organ duties had been pretty light. It was only Dexter's second day on the job. "I'm still trying to get their names down," he said. When Dexter boasted that he's the tallest guitar player in the world, Coco piped up.

"I'm a big-ass, Kareem-Abdul mother Coco in space, but here I'm a measly five-foot three," Coco said. "It's a gravitational function. Sure, he's tall now, but by the end of the tour he'll be our size. We're trying to shrink him for the tour so he'll fit in the van."

The four young guys let enough conversation slip out amidst the interplanetary debris to piece together a brief history of Man Or Astroman?. They evidently came together less than four years ago at Auburn University. Guitarist Star Crunch, for one, got a degree from AU. The band formed because it was something to do. Drummer Birdstuff said the impetus was "sheer boredom. The life in Alabama. Sitting around the TV watching "Lost in Space" reruns."

The band name came from lines in a trailer for a 1962 sci-fi flick called "The Human Vapor." The music seems to get its inspiration from Star Crunch, its drive fromBirdstuff, and its wackiness from Coco. The indie label Estrus Records took an interest in this wicked mix, and a series of EPs and full-length discs issued forth. Their newest record is called "Project Infinity." The BBC was charmed enough by the swinging "Of Sex and Demise" from "Destroy All Astromen!" to use it in their programming. This, it seems, is the direction the band would like to pursue. Soundtracks are the golden future for the band, according to Star Crunch. In the meantime, another full-length album is in the works, "if we can get away from the TV long enough to write it," said Star Crunch.

Man Or Astroman? had recently returned from Belgium, and the drive from 'Bama seemed to have taken a lot out of them. They arrived shortly before show time, so the band's trademark banks of television sets didn't get set up. That farfisa never made it out of the van. And they looked road weary. But they still had enough energy to pursue the Space Shtick.

Star Crunch: We're not here on this planet to be rock stars. We're here to take over the planet."

Coco: Shhh, dammit!

To Star Crunch: Are you named after the Little Debbie snack cakes that you throw out into the crowd?

Coco: You've got it the other way around. We can time travel. They named the snack after HIM.

As their show progresses, Man Or Astroman? tends to move into a harder rocking mode, working on adrenalin. Star Crunch said the band previously exorcised its heavy demons in a loud band dubbed the Teenage Cavemen. "Destroy All Astromen!" found the band exploring its diversity. Nowhere along the line did the group claim to be surf punk. Hear that, fanzines?

"We don't really want to be locked into a certain style of music," said Star Crunch. "We don't want to be locked into a surf thing. Anyway, purists say we're not playing surf music . . . and we never thought we were!"