SKIN GAME: “There’s no preparation for Man Forever,” says Colpitts. “This isn’t something I want to rehearse.”
It sounds like the set-up to a bad joke. When Man Forever take the stage at Great Scott in Allston this weekend, the band will run five or six drummers deep. Instead of changing lightbulbs or debating the finer points of Neil Peart, they'll unleash a dense flurry of tangled rhythms and percussive noise. Expect the drumming analogue to Glenn Branca's guitar orchestras, or Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.
The project is the manifestation of one man's obsession with rhythm and physical exhaustion. John Colpitts, also known as Kid Millions and regarded as one of the most talented and exciting drummers of the day, has kept the frantic pulse of psych-rock juggernauts Oneida since their inception while also leading drum sections at the Boredoms' Boadrum events. He's a serious scholar of the skins, and about as indefatigable as man gets. He formed Man Forever after watching the New York classical band Fireworks Ensemble run through Metal Machine Music.
"It brought together a few separate strands in my mind," he says. "The program notes described how Lou Reed tuned his guitars in fifths and manipulated tape speeds — which got me thinking about a conversation I'd had with [Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer] Brian Chase about intonation and drum tuning. During the concert, I knew I wanted to try applying all these ideas to a solo album."
Colpitts had a standing offer to release a solo album though vinyl boutique label St Ives. A week after the show, he recorded Man Forever's debut, with help from Chase and bassist Richard Hoffman of Brooklyn psych trio Sightings. Colpitts layered multiple tracks of improvised drum fills and patterns, each track precisely tuned to different variations of B and F-sharp, with Hoffman's bass rumbling in the background. The result sounds like a pick-up team of free-jazz drummers jamming in the middle of an avalanche.
But re-creating Man Forever live isn't easy. "We tune each drum to a specific pitch," Colpitts explains, "which is a huge time commitment. To keep our sanity, we limit the drummers and drums. No fewer than five, no more than seven, unless drummers can tune their own drums to pitches. Then the sky's the limit."
Colpitts has recruited an impressive crew for Man Forever's live performances. In addition to Chase, the deep roster has included Shahin Motia of the Ex-Models, Allison Busch of Awesome Color, Andrew Barker of the Gold Sparkle Band, and Greg Fox of Teeth Mountain. Together they put in total effort with zero practice, filling the "performance space with colliding tones," as Colpitts puts it. "There's no preparation for Man Forever. This isn't something I want to rehearse. It's not about doing it in a practice space. The audience is a big part of it. It's about performance and being in a new space, tuning, and presenting this thing to people."
That "thing" is a feat of strength and will for the performers. Man Forever are an endurance test, an Iditarod for drummers that produces a stimulating outburst of noise and improvised music.