Man or Astroman? prepares Commonground landing

by Janos Marton | 10/29/01 6:00am

Hailing from somewhere in outer space, sci-fi surf rockers Man or Astroman? will play Dartmouth College for the first time tonight.

Band members Birdstuff, CoCo the Electric Monkey Wizard, Trace Reading and Blazar claim to be aliens whose intergalactic spacecraft crashed outside Auborn, Alabama in 1992. Left with few options, the quartet elected to assume the identity of an indie-rock band so that they could travel from town to town, collecting information about our useless human race before their eventual return home.

In the process they became one of the hardest working bands in the industry.

Man or Astroman? is currently touring to promote its newest album, "A Spectrum of Infinite Scale," the 10th full length album released by the band since 1993. Although it is difficult to categorize Man or Astroman?'s music, it is deeply rooted in '60s style California surf-rock pioneered by Dick Dale and made popular by the Beach Boys.

Man or Astroman? is far more creative and advanced than surf-rock bands, however, using an array of electronic devices and sound-bites from science fiction movies to create an air of mystery around every album and every live performance. The band has also been characterized as space-rock, especially after releasing their mysterious ninth album, "EEVIAC: Operational Reference Guide, Including Other Modern Computational Devices," an album that celebrated the bands newest acquisition, the Eeviac super-computer system.

A long-time staple of college radio, Man or Astroman? was part of the indie-rock music boom of the mid-late '90s. Coming into its own at the same time as bands like Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Jawbreaker, Superchunk and Built to Spill, MOA was part of a vibrant indie-rock scene, when those bands toured like mad, playing intimate venues across America.

Always an alternative to mainstream music, indie-rock was indirectly affected by the pop explosion of the late '90s. Because Jawbreaker was never too far a cry from popular grunge rock, and Pavement was compatible with early R.E.M, the indie music scene had previously been able to absorb music fans raised on mainstream music.

The resurgence of pop music, however, definitively divided the music world between pop and alternative, and the growing popularity of hip-hop created an underground hip-hop scene that siphoned college-aged potential indie rockers. The recent break-up of indie kings Pavement did not help matters.

None of these events were able to halt the relentless touring and recording of Man or Astroman?, which has developed a unique fan base over the years. Explaining the necessity of finding their own specific following, Birdstuff recalled on the MOA website of the band's early days, "We weren't really part of that trash-rock, lo-fi aesthetic when we were part of the Estrus label. On top of that, surf purists aren't into the band. So it's left us falling through a lot of cracks. The upside of all that is we've been forced to develop our own audience."

Another reason Man or Astroman? still pulls a good draw anywhere they play is the visual wonder of their live shows. While the bombardment of lights and bizarre audio clips may sometime take attention away from the band, Birdstuff remarked, "We have always done that very deliberately. We call it our humility meter, because its hard to feel cool if the kids are just there to see the visuals."

Man or Astroman? will certainly be testing their humility meter when they come to Hanover, not exactly a hotbed of underground music. Although Dispatch has played here in the past, no band has ever demanded as much from a Dartmouth sound system as MOA.

The Black-Eyed Snakes will open the show shortly after 9p.m.