We want to welcome Bill Plasse, our new guest blogger! Now here is his review of They Might Be Giants in concert!
Hi, everyone! It’s great to be a guest columnist on NOLA Nerd Couple. I work with Kurt and Cristina and always enjoy their outlook and viewpoint, so it’s fun to share mine here.
On April 2, I was finally able to cross off an item on the bucket list that I thought would never happen. I saw They Might Be Giants in concert. This might not seem like much, but if you have a favorite singer or band, you know you want to see them live. TMBG has proven elusive to me – they have a habit of coming to New Orleans whenever I’m out of town. This year, however, I proved them wrong and saw them at the House of Blues.
Who are They Might Be Giants? At its core, the band is two guys named John. John Flansburgh plays the guitar, and John Linnell plays the keyboard, accordion, clarinet, and bass clarinet. Both sing – in their albums and show, they trade off lead vocal duties. As their success grew, they filled out to a quintet; they are currently backed by Marty Beller on drums, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Dan Miller on lead guitar. They might be best known to the general public for “You’re Not the Boss of Me,” the theme from Malcolm in the Middle, or “Particle Man” and their cover of “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” due to their use in Tiny Toons, but their anthem is “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” from their album Flood.
As for the show last night, it was more than I hoped it would be. Two sets and two encores – counting a twenty-minute break, the concert ran about three hours. TMBG opened with “Robot Parade,” from their first children’s album No! This was an interesting choice, as enough of the venues on this tour are restricted to ages eighteen and up that they made a social media post asking parents not to bring kids to those venues. However, the song’s hyperkinetic pace set the tone for the evening. They Might Be Giants have been active for over thirty years, and might be forgiven for just standing on stage and cranking out their standards. They did not do that. The band put their all into every song, with just a few of their slower songs to let folks catch their breath now and then.
From there, they launched into their eponymous “They Might Be Giants” which ponders all the things they might be or might do. Over the course of the night, they played songs from at least a dozen albums, including favorites like “Don’t Let’s Start,” “Ana Ng,” and “Particle Man.” Flood was the best-represented album with seven songs performed. After that, the newest album Phone Power had several songs, which you might expect – a highlight from that was their cover of Destiny Childs’ “Bills, Bills, Bills.” The art history teacher in me was delighted to hear “Meet James Ensor,” a (very) quick bio and analysis of the Belgian pre-surrealist. They threw in what they call a “venue song,” a song dedicated to and about the House of Blues. They closed the second encore with the song that everyone was waiting to hear and to sing along to, “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
The band’s humor was evident in their conversation with the crowd. On taking pictures: “This is very important. Take as many as you want.” They warned that if anyone had giant smartphones, the people behind them in the standing-room only crowd would hate them. They found the two people in the audience who didn’t have cellphones and chatted with them for a minute. We cheered when they announced they would do two sets, and then they informed us that the second set would be much better than the first, so that we’d stick around (as if anyone planned to leave early). They then admitted that the first set was about “sixty or seventy percent” as good as the first. Their hope was that by the end of the first set, we’d think they were okay, and then our opinion of them would improve to “pretty good.” Also, fans can download Phone Power from their website for whatever they care to pay. You can guess the option that many people selected.
All in all, this was an awesome concert by one of my favorite bands. Because of the accordion and the absurdist lyrics of many of their songs, it’s easy to compare them with Weird Al (another of my favorites). TMBG is not strictly a comedy band. Many of their songs are funny, but they usually ask listeners to reflect on themselves, their identity, and their world. For example, in “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair,” the singer discusses the many ways he and his friends might torment Mr. Horrible. Oddly, Mr. Horrible is unconcerned with their threats, as there are more mundane things that bother him. We should focus on the things we can change, the song says, or maybe if we sweat the small stuff, the large stuff will resolve itself.
To sum up, I have been a fan of They Might Be Giants for about twenty-five years, and this concert proved exactly why. If you want to hear great songs by great performers, look up They Might Be Giants.