Tag Archives: John Linnell


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.)


They Might Be Giants Close Out Weekend in Williamsburg

January 26th, 2015

They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 25, 2015

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

At this point, They Might Be Giants’ career is long enough that it’s become near impossible to paraphrase. It also doesn’t help that their fans, including me, are nerdy and devoted enough to yell at you for leaving out anything. So here goes nothing. They Might Be Giants consist of mainstays John Flansburgh and John Linnell, plus a backing band that’s been with them since the late ’80s, when they got their start playing around New York City. In local papers, They Might Be Giants promoted their Dial-a-Song service, hooking up an answering machine to a telephone line that played a song with each call. Some have counted upward of 500 original songs through the service. Flood, out in ’89, went platinum and featured the megahits “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” They were ahead of their times poking fun at the all-seeing-eye that is the NSA, before the Snowden leaks even came out. They’ve done a lot of kids music, a handful of theme songs including ones for Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show. I’m just scratching the surface here but you get the idea.

They Might Be Giants’ musical output exists as a galaxy entirely of its own creation, somewhere in the universe alongside Ween, Frank Zappa or Weird Al Yankovic. Their latest venture is version 2.0 of Dial-a-Song, with the band releasing a new tune every Monday at midnight through a phone number (844-387-6962) and Web site. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, They Might Be Giants featured several new numbers, including this week’s Dial-a-Song, “Music Jail Pts. 1 & 2,” plus last week’s “Madame, I Challenge You to a Duel,” loosely based on Oliver Reed and Shelley Winter’s appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Outside of the new stuff, it seemed like a handful in the audience knew every word sung. There was the start-and-stop concept song dedicated to the marching on of time, appropriately titled “Older.” There was “Fingertips,” which saw everyone in the venue waving arms in unison.

The horn section came out blaring in full force for “Call You Mom” and “Authenticity Trip.” In a robot voice, Flansburgh took time to explain to all the truth about the Patriots’ Deflategate. And They Might Be Giants played tribute to recently departed Joe Franklin, who, on one of their appearances on his television show, leaned over to tell them, “If you ever win a Grammy, thank me.” They missed their chance but thanked him last night to make up for it. Trusted classics like “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” appeared toward the second half of the set. The momentum built up through two encores, before finally ending things with “Ana Ng,” off Lincoln. For They Might Be Giants diehards, the band returns next month to play their first album in its entirety. Until then, they’ll be releasing a new song every Monday at midnight through Dial-a-Song. Time marches on, and They Might Be Giants continue to grow their galaxy. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

(They Might Be Giants play Music Hall of Williamsburg again in February, March, April and May.)


They Might Be Giants Return to Terminal 5 Tomorrow Night

November 1st, 2013

John Flansburgh (who recently spoke to Time Out New York about some of his favorite things) and John Linnell have been making music as They Might Be Giants since 1982. For a while it was just the two of them and a drum machine. They didn’t even have a full backing band for nearly a decade. But three decades is a long career, and over that time TMBG have been prolific: six live albums, eight compilations, 21 EPs and 16 LPs, including this year’s well-received Nanobots (stream it below), about which Paste says, “They Might Be Giants have consistently released material that is both new and original without turning into a machine churning out small caricatures of their songs, and on Nanobots they prove that 30 years later, they can still write infectiously catchy, quirky songs about combustible heads, nanobots and black ops that don’t feel contrived in the least.” Plus, They Might Be Giants (above, performing “Birdhouse in Your Soul”) don’t like to be pigeonholed, instead they cover a wide musical terrain, from alternative to children’s music to TV and movie soundtracks. But make no mistake, when they hit Terminal 5 tomorrow night, they’re coming to rock. And not only will it be the Brooklyn band’s “final U.S. performance for the foreseeable future,” but they’ll also take a look back by playing their first album in its entirety.


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.)