The Grand Foyer was packed like a miniature National Mall. Just inside the doors of the Kennedy Center, the Millennium Stage is one of the longest, narrowest venues imaginable. That’s usually fine, but this free show was special. It’s purpose was to the celebrate the redesign of ARTSEDGE, the Kennedy Center’s arts education website. So there were plenty of kids running around, which was more festive than annoying. Many paid attention; others were more interested in their portable electronic devices.
And there on stage was They Might Be Giants, a band that plays the opposite of arena rock. Sometimes John Linnell plays the accordion as the lead instrument, and many of their songs are dense and wordy. The volume was turned up, so even fans in the way way back could enjoy show.
The first time I heard TMBG was on Tiny Toon Adventures’ “Particle Man” segment. Remember that? When Plucky Duck acted as an undermatched wrestler? It’s not hard to imagine them as a children’s band, They’re just more than that. Although songs like “James K. Polk” and anything off Here Come the 123s carry an education message.
Despite the “special” feeling of the show and the narrow space, it was one of the best I’d seen in a long time. The band did exactly a good live act should—they played fan favorites and played them well. “Particle Man” became a back porch zydeco stomp and “Dr. Worm” sounded almost exactly like the original version. Mercifully, the band did not trot out their theme to Malcolm in the Middle.
“Flood,” the band’s most commercially successful album, received generous stage time, including “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” and “Your Racist Friend.”
After a short break, the band came out for a generous chorus that included a sock puppet show, and a rousing version of “Instanbul (Not Constantinople).” If the kids didn’t dig that song, they surely enjoyed the confetti cannon, which boomed three times. By the end of the concert, they were gathering pieces in their hats and shirts like it was some rare element.
Some parents made them drop it back on the floor. The cool parents joined their kids in little confetti snowstorms.