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Man or Astroman?

with VHS or Beta and the Ed Kemper Trio

Echo Lounge, Atlanta February 20, 1999

by Frank Mullen

On a brief stopover in this quadrant before launching on an extended planetary exploration, Man or Astroman? took the time last month to mingle with us Earthlings at the Echo Lounge. For those who are unaware that otherworldly beings walk among us, Man or Astroman? have been marooned on this planet since 1992, when their space ship crash-landed on Earth. Cleverly disguised as a band, they are able to travel from town to town, gathering intelligence on the people of Earth, and preparing for their eventual return to the home planet.

   Due to invalid coordinates entered into the space/time device, the Ed Kemper Trio was finished before I arrived. I must return to that time and location one day to see what I missed.

   VHS or Beta was a somewhat Devo-rivative band, with an interesting wrinkle -- close your eyes, and you could imagine you were at your favorite rave warehouse. Open your eyes, and realize there were actually living humans pounding out the throbbing disco/techno/trance beat. Score one small victory for mankind over machines! With their identical blue work uniforms, they could have passed for industrial entertainment janitors of the 21st century, sterilizing our unclean thoughts with bland synth tunes.

photo by Frank Mullen

Man...or Astroman?

   Finally, at T-minus 3 minutes, a robotic voice began making announcements over the PA. This voice belonged to EVIAC, a newly-developed mainframe computer MOA is using to assist them in their travels. This impressive-looking machine would be right at home on the set of Star Trek (and I mean the original, low-budget series, not the glossy revivals), towering over the band at either side of the drum kit, complete with flashing lights and tape storage devices. After EVIAC announced that it was assuming control of the band, it apparently directed them to take the stage.

   The delay in receiving our radio transmissions across light years of space to their home planet means that MOA's musical spectrum is heavily slanted toward the '60s surf era, with a twist of high tech. Their set tonight was comprised of these space-surf songs, mainly instrumentals, with occasional voice data records from Earth from the same time period, like this one: "In case of nuclear attack, the protection of records is essential, if we are to carry on our economy and way of life". How true -- that's why I store my 45's in a lead-shielded storage compartments.

   Their musical algorithms have been recorded in a variety of media -- literally dozens of CDs, 7-, 10- and 12-inch disks. It's well worth seeking them out, if only for the unique thrill of owning something created on another planet.

   Their technology was impressive -- computer keyboards triggering samplers and synths, a flaming space helmet (radioactive? I hope not), and the aforementioned supercomputer. Also on hand was a bizarre double-necked bass, requiring two of the band to operate it. Especially intriguing was a device that created the illusion of movement by projecting a rapid series of still images onto a white "screen" behind the band.

photo by Frank Mullen

Sharing is nice

   Fortunately for Earth, technical difficulties have kept MOA from returning to their home planet -- tonight was no exception. The EVIAC finally broke down, losing control over the band -- MOA have won! In victory, they reveal their secret weapon -- the awesome Tesla Coil. This improved model provides over 15 thousand volts of power, and discharges six-foot blue sparks in a halo around a piece of equipment resembling Robot from Lost in Space . The Man or Astroman? crew selflessly forms a non-human shield across the front of the stage, protecting our fragile earth bodies from the potential effects of the powerful rays. Then they disappear.

   Raw energy combined with questionable engineering, and a source of potentially dangerous random discharges -- this could describe the Tesla coil or the band itself. With a new record being released April 20 on Touch & Go, a world tour on the horizon, and a new century around the corner, MOA may finally be ready to conquer the planet and return home.

   Astroman propaganda can be found at their web site, http://www.astroman.com.