April 1, 2016
The world has changed significantly since nerd-rockers They Might Be Giants (henceforth abbreviated to TMBG in the interests of time and writer laziness) released their — to date — only platinum album, 1990's Flood. Free passage between the two Germanys had only begun a few months earlier, heralding the end of more than 50 years of fear and suspicion between East and West. The album's bouncy (if occasionally snide) optimism fit the zeitgeist perfectly, even if the band themselves, as guitarist John Flansburgh put it Friday night, never "reaped the Cold War dividend."
TMBG took the stage at Warehouse Live to the theme from 1954's Godzilla, which could be viewed as obnoxious if you weren't 99 percent sure the band was also taking a shot at themselves. Never an arena act, Flansburgh and co-conspirator John Linnell have nonetheless maintained a constant presence online (early adopters, they've been active on the Internet since the Usenet days) and in movies and on television, contributing themes to shows like Malcolm In the Middle, and the fans packing the venue demonstrated the band still commands a loyal following.
Well, not *too* packed. We don't like physical contact very much.
The show consisted of two sets. Set No. 1 mostly featured, in Flansburgh's words, "Songs you don't care as much about." That was a bit of a stretch: The first half featured such TMBG standbys as "Ana Ng," "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)," and "The Mesopotamians," which closed out the set on a strong one-two with "Damn Good Times" (from 2004's The Spine).
The first portion drew from just about their entire discography. For example, "Subliminal" (from John Henry) followed by "Doctor Worm" (Severe Tire Damage) followed by "It's Not My Birthday" (Mightathon). There was also, for some reason, a Destiny's Child cover ("Bills, Bills, Bills"), during which the oblivious Clear Channel rep behind me proudly declared, "I know this song!"
To be sure, there was some restlessness evident during the opening half, possibly owing to the dawning realization among the audience that they were going to have to stand for more than two hours. Or maybe we just seemed torpid compared to Flansburgh, who commented several times on the amount of coffee he'd drunk before the show.
And then, after a 20-minute intermission, Flood. The twist (there's always a twist)? They played it back to front, therefore starting off with "Road Movie to Berlin," which includes my personal favorite TMBG lyric:
We were once so close to heavenAs befits the band's most popular album, the crowd lustily sang along to every song. It was then I realized that TMBG has become something of a cross-generational phenomenon, as many in attendance couldn't have been more than toddlers when Flood was released. The Johns hewed pretty closely to the songs' original formats, veering off slightly with "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," which sounded almost like a James Bond theme. Now *there's* an idea.
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned
By the time the "Theme From Flood" played, you could almost believe the world truly was in love again. And there were still two encores to come, the first one including a great cover of Jonathan Richman's "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar." Forty songs in total, which isn't as beefy as it sounds (credit the brevity of many tunes to the band's punk influences).
Is Flood truly timeless? More than any of their other material, I mean? Flood is certainly of a time, and it and followup Apollo 18 are TMBG at their most gleefully anarchic. I'm probably biased, having fond memories of that era, but it's definitely the album that gets the most repeat spins from me.
Even if that line about the ocean levels rising isn't quite as funny anymore.
Personal Bias: I have been known to put "Minimum Wage" on repeat for hours at a time.
The Crowd: Nerds and their inevitably nerdy offspring.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Mahalo!" (don't ask)
Random Notebook Dump: "These folks are a lot more clean-cut than the GWAR crowd."
SET LIST 1
Can't Keep Johnny Down
Musical Jail, Parts 1 & 2
The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)
No One Knows My Plan
Los Angeles (West Hollywood House of Blues)
It's Not My Birthday
Bills, Bills, Bills (Destiny's Child cover)
Trouble Awful Devil Evil
Let Me Tell You About My Operation
Damn Good Times
SET LIST 2 (Flood)
Road Movie to Berlin
They Might Be Giants
Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love
Women and Men
Whistling in the Dark
Someone Keeps Moving My Chair
We Want a Rock
Your Racist Friend
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (the Four Lads cover)
Lucky Ball and Chain
Birdhouse in Your Soul
Theme from Flood
I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar (Jonathan Richman cover)
Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes
She's an Angel