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They Might Be Giants Take a Look Back and a Peak Ahead

February 23rd, 2015

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 22, 2015

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 22, 2015
While millions tuned into the Oscars last night to see whether a movie about an aging actor would defeat a film that took place over the course of 12 years, They Might Be Giants, a project that demands its own meditation on mortality and the march of linear time, took the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg to play their debut album. Part of a string of shows at Music Hall that will see the band celebrate the 25th anniversary of their seminal record, Flood, next month, TMBG, as they’re fondly abbreviated, navigate their third decade as a project with the aplomb of the Original Gangsters of Brooklyn. But the two Johns—Flansburgh and Linnell—that still comprise the genesis and 30 years of enjoyable musical entropy of the band, remain as sharp in their arrangements and as quirky as ever. If the night promised a return to the 1986 self-titled record, this wouldn’t be the bildungsroman narrative of Boyhood or the middle-aged redemption tale of Birdman. The amazing thing about the Giants is how little they’ve changed since the Reagan administration.

John Flansburgh opened with the band’s requisite dry humor, quipping, “This room smells great … I’ve been on uptown buses, and this beats all of them.” The show itself, billed as the band playing their first LP, quickly wasn’t about that at all, Flansburgh again wryly noting, “We’ll be playing our first record, but out of order and with other songs in between.” Trust TMBG to playfully subvert their own premise. They opened with three cuts in a row off They Might Be Giants, “Chess Piece Face,” “I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die” and “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head,” before mixing in such recent favorites as “Dr. Worm” and “Man, It’s So Loud in Here,” plus yet-to-be-released material, like “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” and “Music Jail, Part 1 and 2.” The crowd, reacting more feverishly to the older numbers, sang along, a mutual memory machine for those who knew all the words and one of the most prodigious acts in rock history remembering some of their oldest songs. Even the rapid-fire lyrics of “Rhythm Section Want Ad” and “Everything Is Right Is Wrong Again” clearly emerged from the band and their fans.

After playing the club-music send-up, “Man, It’s So Loud in Here,” Flansburgh remarked that the 2001 composition was from the “middle of our career.” Linnell looked askance at his bandmate just for a moment, before correcting, “I think we’re in the middle right now.” While the implication of another 30 years of making hyperliterate, genre-bending pop would wait on the march of time, the Giants launched into “Absolutely Bill’s Mood,” a song they wrote in 1985. Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture an hour or so after this brief but telling moment, but it was TMBG who looked and sounded undaunted and enlivened staring into their past and unfolding future. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

(See They Might Be Giants at Music Hall of Williamsburg on 4/26 and then again on 5/31.)

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Brooklyn Originals

December 31st, 2012

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 30, 2012


They Might Be Giants are certifiable Brooklyn OGs, a fact most of last night’s crowd knew even before John Flansburgh mentioned he used to live on N. 5th St. back when Music Hall of Williamsburg was still called Northsix. It ran deeper still. Most in the audience possessed intimate, personal memories of the Reagan years, and most probably knew They Might Be Giants once ran a service called Dial-A-Song where fans, or anyone really, could call a local Brooklyn number and hear Flansburgh and John Linnell sing songs they had recorded on their answering machine. Further, for the They Might Be Giants completist, many of these fans certainly knew the hidden track on 1996’s Factory Showroom, “Token Back to Brooklyn,” could only be accessed by pressing the rewind button on your CD player during the album’s first song. A lot has changed in Brooklyn, but They Might Be Giants have remained largely the same: still weird, still deeply postmodern and still churning out genre-spanning pop by the fistful.

Over three nights at Music Hall of Williamsburg, TMBG are playing a different set of albums each night spanning the band’s 30-year career. Last night, the second, the audience was treated to music from Lincoln and Flood, two early records, as well as a few songs from their latest LP, Join Us, and the upcoming Nanobots, the latter of which, unsurprisingly, will feature 25 songs. The band played their eponymous song, “They Might Be Giants,” then playing other Flood material, “Letterbox” and “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair” before switching to Lincoln songs “Cowtown,” “Lie Still, Little Bottle” and “Pencil Rain.” Each featured the group’s signature pop hooks, the Johns looking a bit older but still switching from a range of instruments with deftness and ease.

The second half of the set contained the band’s bigger songs, “Ana Ng,” “Minimum Wage” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” They Might Be Giants closed with “Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal,” which joked openly about “pay-for-play” radio. It was a fitting end, even before the next two encores, a bit of commercial humor for a band that’s seen the borough make and break so many other bands since TMBG formed in 1982. It didn’t mean they were bitter—“Birdhouse in Your Soul” went to No. 3 on the U.S. Modern Rock chart in 1990—just old enough to see the horizon for what it is, a moving target. Appropriately, they closed the night with “The Mesopotamians,” a song about a fictional rock band that took the name of the long lost civilization and worried if anyone would remember or understand them, a bit like a band that might have been giants in a borough like Brooklyn. —Geoff Nelson

(They Might Be Giants play Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight.)