They Might Be Giants
with OK Go
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, FL • March 23, 2001
I haven’t been to a lot of shows since relocating to Melbourne, FL about a year ago. The reason for that is obvious if you know anything about the area. Melbourne is a great area, with a small town feel though it has the resources of a mid-sized city. It’s near the beaches and has beautiful weather. The only problem is that hardly ANY bands come to play here, and usually, the closest place any band I want to see plays is a minimum of an hour away, in Orlando. That means that while I love the live music experience, it takes a really special band to get me to make the trek. They Might Be Giants, of course, are one such band. My favorite band for over a decade, I’d have walked to Orlando before missing this show! Luckily, that wasn’t necessary — fellow Ink 19-er Charley Deppner wanted to catch the show, too, so we piled into his van for the trip over.
Opening the show was Chicago quartet OK Go. A name like that invites all sorts of snide remarks, and unfortunately, the band earns them. Their mercifully short set found them at odds between wanting to be quirky and experimental and trying to be cute boy rock stars. Charley described ’em as “label happy,” and it certainly seemed apt — it seemed obvious that they’d be happy playing quirky little pop songs, but they make too many compromises in trying to appeal to an A&R guy’s idea of what will sell. As a result, they come across as a less clever, less hooky, and far less entertaining version of the great Deathray. Nowhere was this more obvious than when they chose to open their set with a cover of The Smiths’ “Panic.” Opening with a cover is almost never a good idea, but they took this minor classic and made it an ill-conceived mish-mash of Brit-pop harmonies and cock rock guitar, amping up the choruses of “Hang the DJ” to sound like something out of Alice Cooper, or more aptly, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” — you know, the one with the kids shouting along?
That’s not to say that OK Go had nothing going for them. They seemed sincere and personable enough (despite an ill-advised to relate to the Orlando crowd with a bit of play with an N*SYNC musical wristwatch — Orlando folk didn’t really want to be reminded that they live in boy band Mecca), and it’s hard to completely disregard any band that goofs around with old school human beatbox rap (as they did for one song). The final song of their set should have been their first, a driving, foot-stomping rocker that was easily the set’s highlight (in fact, had they switched the opening and closing songs, I might have felt a lot more charitable toward the band), but by that point, it was too little, too late, and the crowd didn’t seem too upset when OK Go were OK Gone.
Between sets, I couldn’t help but notice the unique tape that played while the roadies got the stage ready for TMBG. The background music was comprised virtually equally of classic ska music (Toots & the Maytals’ “Six and Seven Books of Moses,” Roland Alphonso’s “Dr. Ring-A-Ding,” etc.) and TMBG rarities (incidental music from Malcolm in the Middle, MP3-only tracks from their library on http://www.emusic.com, and even a few covers of TMBG originals). I figured (quite mistakenly) that this was the band’s subtle way of saying “don’t expect these songs in tonight’s set,” but in any event, it was certainly an enjoyable way to pass the time.
At last, though, the genuine article hit the stage. Flanked by the Band of Dans, Johns Flansburgh and Linnell took their places at either side of the stage. As the crowd roared, Linnell strapped on his accordion, and they launched into a heavy-sounding version of “Subliminal” to kick things off. The long-time favorite “Particle Man,” quickly followed, kicking things up a notch with a quirky mid-song break into a warped version of The Carpenters’ “Close To You,” then the band broke for some quick hellos, Flansburgh quipping, “We’ve never seen so many people in one place so close to a Hard Rock Café before.”
From there, the set was loaded with favorites, from well-known tracks like “S-E-X-X-Y,” “James K. Polk,” and the current hit theme from Malcolm in the Middle, “Boss Of Me,” to live rarities like the B-side “It’s Not My Birthday,” and most spectacularly, the 21-mini-song epic “Fingertips,” which they’re playing live in its entirety for the first time on this tour. The band was in top form, holding everything together and quickly getting into a groove — even the complicated “Fingertips” was virtually flawless. Moreover, the band seemed to be in a great mood, and definitely had a better time relating to the crowd than their openers, Flansburgh relating a story of growing up in Boston when the band Boston hit big, and being embarrassed that the band was being associated with their home town, then asking, “So, we were wondering what you guys think of O-Town•”
Along the way, TMBG debuted a few new songs due to appear on their next album, Mink Car (due this August). While all these new tunes got a good response, the highlight was definitely “Cyclops Rock,” a thundering pop song with a little bit of a ska feel thrown in.
The set’s mid-point came with a totally darkened stage for “Pet Name” which showed the delineation between average concertgoers and They Might Be Giants fans — while the predictable lighters went into the air, more people seemed to be holding up their lighted cell phones and Palm Pilots! The communal spirit continued as the Giants announced they’d been “back to Flood school” to re-learn a bunch of songs off that classic 1990 album, then treating the crowd to a few tunes they hadn’t played live in years, like “Letterbox” and “Women And Men.” “She’s Actual Size” featured an awesome, Moviefone-parodying drum solo, as Flansburgh imitated the service’s distinctive spiel (“For hi-hat, press one. For snare and hi-hat, press two.”). John and John then took the stage alone for a cover of Leslie Gore’s “Maybe I Know,” before bringing out drummer Dan Hickey to play glockenspiel (set up by its own, special glockenspiel tech) on “Shoehorn With Teeth.”
The rest of the Dans returned and the set kicked into high gear with a long set of TMBG favorites. “Doctor Worm” built up the crowd, but following with “Don’t Let’s Start” really whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and the bouncy version of “The Guitar” (complete with stunning bass solo) ensured that the crowd wouldn’t calm down any time soon! When Flansburgh fudged the lyrics to “Why Does the Sun Shine?,” the crowd simply cheered, and the set-closing Flood combo of “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Twisting” left the crowd hungry for more.
The crowd’s deafening roar brought the Giants back to the stage in short order. They launched into a rocked-up version of “Robot Parade” (a song currently available only on MP3), complete with a metallic guitar solo, then quickly followed with their cover of Cub’s “New York City,” featuring some especially sweet harmonies. They tried again to leave the stage after that, but the crowd wouldn’t have it. The demands for more were quickly met with another new song, followed by an extended acoustic guitar solo that eventually led into a flamenco-inflected version of the crowd favorite “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” to finally close out the night.
In all, a night well worth the long drive to Orlando. Both the crowd and the band seemed to have a wonderful time, the band even remarking on how much they love playing in Florida, and recommitting to coming back more often. Let’s hope they stick to it! It may cause wear and tear on the ol’ car and a larger gas bill, but I’ll make that drive for this band any day, ’cause a great show is virtually guaranteed!