Amy X Neuburg & Men may be San Francisco stalwarts with two albums under their belts now, but that doesn't mean they're predictable. Amy X sings and throws down a little electronic drumwork; the men backing her boast MIDI mallets, a Chapman stick, a Lightning motion-sensor instrument (on which mallet-man Joel Davel improvises “Joel-o”s), and even an “ambient personality” in the form of vocalist J.T. Quillan III, on top of guitar and vocals from all. And how they sing. Sometimes AXN & Men sound like they're in a musical of the Oklahoma! era, as when they lyricize about singing in the shower: “No one has to see your butt …,” Amy X leads off, the Men responding in chorus. At other times, layered percussion, explosions, and the like give the band a more rocky, new wave feel. They wander into Hebrew and intraband arguments, dance around, and come out the other side with the audience still hanging onto the thread of solid melody, if barely. The names Frank Zappa and Kurt Weill spring up again and again in attempts to describe AXN & Men's work, which alone suggests their eclecticism.
But as if to stave off any rumblings that their electronic cabaret art-rock sound is getting old — they have been calling it that for at least a couple of years now — Amy X Neuburg & Men are ready to mix it up again. They're taking their show to Emeryville, where they'll join Emeryville Taiko in its dojo for two wacky collaborative shows. Or (strike that) maybe they're just going back to their roots; this bizarre mix of artists shared the stage once before, in 1998, and they're eager to hit it again. Men man Micah Ball, it happens, is an experienced taiko drummer and former member of the Emeryville collective.
Although their performing styles and instruments are radically different, the groups do share a few similarities. Taiko drumming, which has its origins in Japanese religious ceremonies and folk festivals, involves the whole body. Like AXN & Men, the taiko drummers are performing a kind of musical theater: Stylized movement and dramatic energy are a big part of the show. And though AXN & Men favor high-tech percussion devices, their music demonstrates a clear interest in the kind of alternately solid, alternately skittery beats taiko is famous for.
AXN & Men and Emeryville Taiko will each play individual sets, then join forces to lay down “electric Japanese cabaret cowboy songs” and more. Given the price of Japanese beef, it's no surprise that Japanese cowboys feel like singing; how they sound will be interesting to find out.