It is like the scene from a VH1 rock 'n' roll movie. Falling to his knees, then springing to his feet, catching the mike then sliding across the stage while never missing a note, Wrenn Mangum puts on a rockin' aerobic workout when fronting the band The Wild One.
The music is classic rockabilly but with the work ethic of James Brown. And like the Godfather of Soul, Mangum has injured himself a few times during the frenzied, athletic spectacle of his band's live music show.
"It's almost impossible for me to stand still," Mangum says. "At the end of a show I feel like I'm about to die. Then I know that I did a good job."
The 29-year-old Mangum is already well-known for daring performances. While fronting for the band Frog Legs in the 1990s he dazzled and sometimes shocked audiences with a satiric, crotch-rock act that included a singer dressed in choir robes, kung fu outfits and whiteface.
"I would dress up like a geisha girl and we would play real old-school James Brown funk," Mangum says.
The Wild One may not be as provocative as Frog Legs, but it brings the same energy level. Joined by former Frog Legs member Morgan Huff on guitar, bass player Patrick Turner and Louie Landry on drums, Mangum and his bandmates combine accomplished musicianship, a high energy level and an irreverent, zany humor that is more akin to a Steve Martin comedy act than a nostalgic rock 'n' roll show.
Stiffening up his body in a geeky pose while speaking to his audience in a deliberate parody of a reedy-voiced, nervous middle manager Mangum says, "Now if our corporate sponsors would please sit in that section to the left. And if the media would please sit on the right. And the rest of you, well, you can just sit anywhere."
Between sets in the three-and-a-half-hour show, Mangum usually races off to the men's room where he changes out of his sweat-drenched clothes. During a recent show one woman told him, "You need to step outside for a minute." Mangum responded, "I sure would like to, but my galoshes can't stand the cold."
Then it's right back to a set with songs such as "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Little Queenie," and "Heartbreak Hotel."
Mangum is the central attraction. But he acknowledges that he couldn't stir his audience without the backing of three players who labor four nights every week on the fine points of Chuck Berry rockers and Elvis ballads.
"I'm blessed to have guys who are such hard workers," Mangum says. "They [Turner and Landry] had never played rockabilly before joining The Wild One."
While it is the visceral energy of his live performance that draws people to his shows, Mangum is a literate and philosophical man who can explain the nuances of existentialism to the uninitiated. On Friedrich Nietzsche he says, "Most people don't realize that when he wrote about philosophizing with a hammer he was talking about a tuning fork."
Even the choice of his band's name was in part philosophic. A year ago Mangum and Huff were throwing around a series of names for their new band and "Sideburns" didn't seem evocative enough. They decided to go with the title of a movie that for them symbolized the very nature of rock 'n' roll.
"It won't scare Mom and Dad anymore," Mangum says. "But that movie [The Wild One] had a lot of effect on the psychology of the rebel as it translated into fashion and music in youth culture." S
The Wild One will perform at Swingers, 12 N. 18th St., on Dec. 14. Call 648-1003.
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