“This is our first proper gig,” lead singer Johnny Langer said at one point during Man Like Me’s triumphant set at the Jazz Caf.
This might have been the glitziest of their bookings so far, but there was no mistaking their ability to put on a show, honed in tiny venues where sweat drips off the walls and the girl next to you could have your eye out with her elbow.
The seven-piece brass band brought in for this gig were hopefully a sign of bigger budgets as the band get more credit for their genre-hopping, pure London genius. And watching Johnny winning around a trumpet player was immediate proof of how this band combines the DNA of Englishness – a genome that spans everything from pie and mash to drum and bass – into a joyful, shambolic blend of brass and beats.
Johnny Langer has the kind of charisma that Lynx ads promise, and not just because he tends to take his shirt off halfway through every set. His wide-eyed energy brings an urgency to the songs that they sometimes lack on record. He once said in an interview that Prince is one of his inspirations, and although he’s definitely taller, Langer has a flamboyance and a joy in performing that doesn’t make the comparison too far off the mark. One day, if the universe is just, teenage girls will have his picture on their bedroom walls.
Man Like Me arrived onstage in a flurry of confetti and cheers and launched straight into a slamming Oh My Gosh, aided by a female singer whose name half an hour of strenuous Googling has failed to reveal. That’s a shame, because she was ace – like an EastEnders siren in a leopard-print dress, the Ginger Rogers to Johnny’s Fred Astaire, and her vocals gave an extra dimension to the songs’ tales of drunken nights out and relationships gone wrong. The brass section, a bunch of middle-aged men in dark glasses and suits, didn’t hurt either.
This is social commentary with its tongue firmly in its cheek, and the music sometimes sounds like a car zigzagging from one side of the road to the other, picking up a member of The Specials here, a guy who used to hang out with Wiley there… but underneath Man Like Me’s apparent diamond-in-the-rough, diamond-geezer exterior is a steely intelligence: these people know how to make you dance, and they proved it with songs like the lolloping Single Dad and Donut. Half of the audience knew the words off by heart and the other half learned pretty fast.
As a guy fired party poppers from the top balcony onto the dancing crowd below, MLM closed the set with an ecstatic London Town, the band’s anthem to the town that made them. Then they came back and did it again for the encore, because, Langer explained, “We’ve run out of songs, but we didn’t do the dance properly last time so we’ll do it again.” They did it again. They did the dance. And pretty much the whole room joined in.
Man Like Me’s trombone player, the beautifully named Trombone Jerome, describes the band as “a mix between complete bullshit and the baddest party you’ve ever been to”. Get involved at your earliest possible convenience.