all words: Adriana Cotes
all photos: Stephanie Breijo
It wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced so many high school kids in one place for one purpose, but it was probably the most prominent. After a surprisingly quick, but super long line around the corner from the 9:30 Club to see They Might Be Giants, we got inside, pushing through the vast amounts of 14 to 18 year olds and their mother-father-aunt-uncle, all giving me sour looks as I rammed my way through and take out my pen-pad (aren’t I so Nancy Drew? But really, it’s the pad I use to balance my checkbook AND review shows. I’m old.)
In a flurry of strobe lights that dazed the children, even more the adults, They Might Be Giants appears — Marty Beller (drums), Dan Miller (guitar), and Danny Weinkauf (bass) armor up as Linnell smiles that toothy, cute smile in front of the keyboard, and Flansburgh (MY GUILTY DREAMBOAT) straps on his lovely Fender Jaguar and smiles debonairly, waving at the audience. Oh lord, I’ve admitted on the internet that I love Flansy. I don’t care, love like this is too beautiful to hide.
After a brief applause and cheer supplication from the duo as they recount the trailer fire they had only a few days before at a tour stop in San Diego, destroying a good amount of equipment (AND FLANSY’S 20 YEAR OLD MARCHING BAND BASS DRUM, me creys), they comment throughout the set the distinct ashy, burnt odor all their stuff has. They begin with “Pencil Rain”, and my heart tugs for that bass drum. They make it through, Flansy and Dan Miller riffing off of each other as the march continues. They continue with “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” off of their new studio album “Join Us”, making the crowd bounce along to the happy, catchy tune.
I’m blown away by the father and son next to me, at least 30 years apart, and the father’s singing back to him as they both bounce to the perky beat. It’s less ‘Dad you’re embarrassing me’ and more ‘Dad, they’re right in front of us, let’s act like fools so they can see us’. And that something I’ve noticed especially about TMBG–they’re the band for the freaks and geeks. And these kids are refreshingly not playing it cool, which bothers the hell out of me about youngsters (YES, I used the word “youngsters”) these days. I have to admit, I was an enormously awkward, dorky nerd in high school–and still am. But, alas, begin Hispanic, my Mom thought this music was weird (like me). Lucky little bastards.
They continue to play “Celebration”, which I have to say was a bit phoned in, but then and now, I don’t really care. During the pause, Flansy says to Linnell, “This show’s way too good too early”, and Linnell agrees explaining they need to put some shit into this concert. I look at Flansy, and it’s like there were lightbulbs in his glasses–“SHIT SAUCE” he exclaims. So the ‘shit sauce’ segment begins, as they talk about how they lost a Grammy for their album Here Comes Science (2009) to “someone with a lifetime achievement award”.
Flansy remarks, “Don’t they give those to people who don’t need anymore Grammy’s?”
Linnell, facing the audience, says, “…Sour grapes…”
The exchange turned me off and on at the same time, which is what I’m going to say was their purpose. Flansy says “SHIT SAUCE!” once more, and they return to the music with “The Mesopotamians” off of their 2007 The Else, but with a definitely slower tempo, a little more jazzy, followed by the soulful and absolutely hilarious “Why Does The Sun Really Shine?”, with Flansy stalking the stage, refuting all that was said in the more punk rock “Why Does The Sun Shine?”.
We bob our heads, taking in the slew of artsy-but-not-so-artsy images and videos behind the band as they played recent hits like “Old Pine Box” and one of my personal favorites “Cloissone” to oldies such as “They’ll Need A Crane”, “Purple Toupee'” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), and “Mr. Me”.
Soon, Flansy flashes an industrial flashlight in a now dark nightclub, and the beam goes straight through the audience, dividing us in half. One half is charged to chant “People”, my half “Ape”. I try to furiously write notes in between, feeling conflicted—then an older lady asks me “What are you doing, writing a poem?”. And she was right, I had begun obsessing over every little detail, when in reality I should have been enjoying my first TMBG show, the show I’ve been trying to get to for about 8 years, but never could.
I scream ‘APE’ as loudly as I can, tucking my pad in my pocket, and she pats me on the back approvingly; another example of how only a band like They Might Be Giants can have fans like this.
But soon, another lovely distraction arises, as the bass drum curiously positioned onstage turns out to be outfitted with a webcam, and Paul & Joe, sock puppets created by the Johns, comically banter and sing through “Snowball In Hell”. They run throughout the second half of the set with less of a rush, and more of a drive. And sense of madness and wonderful chaos ensures when they play my shower-song “You Probably Get That A Lot”, and I sing wildly as I scribble the words ‘BASS’, ‘LOVE’, and ‘WANT’ in my Nancy-Drew-in-a-pocket.
Paul & Joe return to sing “Shoehorn with Teeth”, and then the urgency eclipses on “Ana Ng”, and Linnell’s voice so relaxed on tape, but so passionate and it’s catching through the club. By the time “Cowtown” played, everyone was singing along, exhausted, and drunk on something that made them all sing the lyrics in exact robotic unison, myself included.
After the playful, and incredibly catchy “Canahojarie”, they leave swiftly, in another flurry of strobes.
But of course, an encore was in order. We’re all relieved, and it’s just the Johns onstage. Flansy, my love, he proclaims (and Linnell dearly reinforces), ‘I want to raise my freak flag’, during “How Can I Sing Like A Girl?”, but the tone changes as flashing images of household items and not-so-benign looking ones flash on the screen behind the band, accompanying the sweetly menacing “When Will You Die”.
Then they’re gone, and we’re all sad.
With yet ANOTHER encore, it became lively with a crazy sick solo from drummer Marty Beller, a club inclusive “Clap Your Hands”, “Damn Good Times”, and pathetic but heroic “Birdhouse In Your Soul”, and TMBG looks tired, but happy and exhilarated, and I still don’t believe they’re fifty and Flansy’s married–what?
And one last farewell, we cheer and scream and beg for more for another 5 minutes—-you know what’s next.
And they return, with Flansy and Linnell saying they’ll play one last tune for us, a ‘made-up’ one that’s pretty near and dear to their hearts. It’s actually “Marty Beller’s Mask” (HAH) off of their new B-side album Album Raises New And Troubling Questions, and they pull all the stops with the full band, though I’m sure they were thoroughly exhausted. They say goodbye again, and we all knew it was the last, and I could swear Flansy smiled and winked at me as I waved my pen-pad furiously. I SWEAR.