They Might Be Giants
with OK Go
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, FL • March 23, 2002
I’ve seen They Might Be Giants live at least 15 times, by my best guess, and I’ve probably reviewed at least half of those performances. One would think that either the band would lose some freshness for me in all that time, or I’d just plain run out of things to say about them. But were that the case, I wouldn’t be so excited every time they come to town – enough that a major “awards show” geek like myself was even willing to skip the big Oscar broadcast to go catch TMBG yet again. And I certainly wouldn’t be writing this review.
By some strange and unfortunate coincidence, OK Go were again opening for TMBG, as they had the last time they were in town. I assume that the Giants like the band – John Flansburgh spoke complimentarily of them from the stage last year – but I was seriously underwhelmed by their performance at that time. So I wasn’t at all disappointed when I realized that the inevitable traffic during the long trek from Melbourne meant that we missed the band’s set entirely. It was only a couple of days after the show, when I heard good things about the band from a coworker – including the fact that they apparently played a TMBG cover during their set – that I was a bit remorseful. In any event, it sounded as though they may have improved since the last time I caught them, and should they visit a third time, I’ll make more of an effort to catch them.
My guess is that we must have arrived right after OK Go left the stage, because it seemed like forever before They Might Be Giants came to the stage. Of course, this wait could have seemed magnified by anticipation, but was definitely made interminable by the choice of playing a batch of old school hip-hop at ear-shattering decibels (in other words, just a little lower in volume than you hear modern-day hip hop coming from your average hoochie-mobile from two blocks away). Don’t get me wrong, I love some of what they played – especially the early-day Run-DMC stuff, but the combination of the volume and the decibel level was enough to grate on anyone’s nerves. Ironically, it was right when they started playing “Basketball,” by the only old school hip-hopper ever to be name-checked in a TMBG song, Kurtis Blow, that the taped music faded and the band finally took the stage.
With a friendly “hello” shouted from John Flansburgh, They Might Be Giants charged into a raucous version of their popular cover of Cub’s “New York City” to open their set. Flansburgh and his partner, John Linnell seemed excited to be back in Orlando, perhaps energized by their recent surprise Grammy win for their Malcolm in the Middle theme, “Boss Of Me” (Linnell, in introducing the song later in the set, quipped, “We used to think the Grammys were bullshit, but now we think they’re great”). Their usual backing band, the “Band Of Dans,” was short a Dan, as regular bassist Danny Weinkauf took some time off the road to be with his new child. Jeremy Chatzky did a solid job filling in alongside Dans Hickey on the drums and Miller on the guitar. And like the band, the evening’s set would prove to be a fun mix of new and old, both in terms of material and in bits of business the band does onstage.
The band wisely keeps enough older material in the set to please the crowd, and songs like “Ana Ng,” “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” and “Particle Man,” as usual, got some of the strongest crowd reactions of the generously long set. Similarly, there are bits of stage business that the band brings back on a semi-regular basis that really get the long-time fans excited, such as the confetti cannon that shoots off at the first climax in “James K. Polk,” the big buildup for Dan Hickey’s glockenspiel work on “Shoehorn With Teeth” (compete with the band’s own “glockenspiel tech”), and hanging from the rafters, three cutouts of an old man’s face that should be familiar to fans of the band’s earliest videos. As a hardcore old-time fan, I was mildly disappointed that the band didn’t do even one song from their classic self-titled debut – not even the very popular “Don’t Let’s Start” – but given the breadth of their catalog, it only makes sense that songs get rotated in and out of the set. By the same token, virtually every time I’ve seen TMBG, they’ve pulled one oldie out of the back catalog that I’ve never heard them do live before, and this time was no exception, as they trotted out “Dead” from 1990’s breakthrough Flood to the delight of the audience.
But I mentioned that there was plenty of new, as well, and that was certainly the case. Aside from a well-received batch of tunes from their newest album, Mink Car – including a raucous “Cyclops Rock,” a boisterous “Man, It’s So Loud in Here,” and a peppy “Yeh Yeh,” among others – TMBG offered a preview of several songs from their upcoming children’s album, No!, including a heavily vocodered new version of “Robot Parade,” the whimsical, wistful “Four Of Two,” and the funky “John Lee Supertaster.” And there were some very fun new bits of business, as well. Most memorable was the band’s attempts to play along with local radio – they wired a radio through the sound system and spun through the dial looking for songs to play along with, winding up with a fairly credible version of “I Only Have Eyes For You” after several musical misadventures. “She’s Actual Size” was interrupted with an extended drum solo/improvisation from Hickey, as Flansurgh imitated the annoying Movifone guy and encouraged the audience to “press or say” a number to hear Dickey play in a certain style, including those of John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Stevie Wonder (pre- and post-‘80s), and The Muppet Show’s “Animal.” And “The Guitar” found Flansburgh leaning over into the audience to allow a fan to strum the familiar riff from the classic song.
The band, as always, was tight and polished without being too “rehearsed,” allowing plenty of room for improvisation and fun. The adoring crowd loved every minute of it, and demanded two encores, which included such favorites as “Fingertips,” “Spy,” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” In fact, had the crowd had its way, we might all still be at the Hard Rock as the band continues to work through its extensive catalog – certainly, there was enough applause to justify a third encore, had the club not put up the house lights and cranked the easy listening tunes to empty out the place. As always, a brilliant show that just reinforces my love for this wonderful, wonderful band. Don’t miss They Might Be Giants when they come to your town – a good time is guaranteed.