Sunday, November 11, 2007

Geek rock concert report (TMBG)

They Might Be Giants played The Roxy in Boston on Friday night, October 19, 2007.

This is a band you may think you’ve never heard of, but you most definitely have heard. They did the Dr. Evil Theme for Austin Powers II, the theme for Malcolm in the Middle (you’re not the boss of me now …), and performed the theme for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I remember first seeing They Might Be Giants on Letterman in 1993. IMDB says Mary Chapin Carpenter and Bill Murray appeared on that show too. And I had all their CDs back in the days when I only had 12 CDs. Of course, being the ultimate geek, actually going to one of their shows never even occurred to me back then.

I have never seen a concert audience quite like this one. It is geek pride night: men with plaid shirts, women wearing hooded sweatshirts (not hoodies, hooded sweatshirts), and lots of fans holding up big yellow styrofoam fingers (the first finger, number one). I get me one of those by purchasing their new CD, The Else. And there are a lot of younger fans who couldn’t have been more than toddlers back in the day. The number of brown-haired women sporting the librarian look and wearing glasses warms my heart (contact lenses ruin your geek cred). Admittedly, there are a couple of women dressed in the classic rocker chick style with the designer slacks; the shiny-fuzzy, skin-tight, v-necked top; and the not-quite-shoulder-length blonded hair. But they stand off to the side towards the back, like a couple of wallflowers.

My friend the journeyman wind and reed player from the now-defunct Uncle Shaker Band came with me. TMBG is, he says, about as much rock and roll as he can take these days. He and I stopped before the show at some food joint in the Theater District for a bowl of soup. We may have a convert.

From all appearances, the show at The Roxy is a sell-out. And from the stage TMBG is shamelessly plugging a show Saturday night at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton which they say has not yet sold out. It sounds great, this is to be a special horns show with the horns playing parts on all the old favorites that they don’t ordinarily play. They ask us if we know anyone in western Massachusetts we could call and tell to go. They ask us if we know us, if we can get in a car and drive to Northampton for the show. They ask for a show of hands, for people driving out, that we might hook up with for a ride. But there is a problem they don’t mention. Saturday night is ALCS game 6 with the Boston Red Sox against the Cleveland Indians. What is a self-respecting geek rocker to do? Choose you favorite band or your favorite baseball team? I’m afraid that Northampton horns show won’t sell out, unless they get some fans to drive up from New York City.

The show starts at 7:45pm, and clears out promptly around 10pm to make room for the dance DJs who take over The Roxy on weekend nights. We file out past three hip-hop DJs who are waiting impatiently in the marble foyer with their equipment. They look us over with something between confusion and disbelief.

So what does any self-respecting geek-rocker do after a TMBG show? In my case, I took the subway home and popped the documentary Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns into the DVD. But after 10 minutes I swapped it out and stayed up way past my bedtime watching episodes of the new Battlestar Galatica. I was a fan of the original show in the late 1970s. The new show stars Edward James Olmos in the Lorne Greene role as Adama. But it also stars Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck in the role originated by Dirk Benedict. I am pretty sure if I watch this new series long enough (which I will), Starbuck is going to hook up with Apollo, now played by Jamie Bamber. And before that Starbuck is likely to dally with the original Apollo, Richard Hatch, who now plays a freedom fighter/terrorist named Tom Zarek. I am so confused.

But I digress. It’s now 3 weeks later and having watched my way through Battlestar Galatica Season 2.5 (2.5, how geeky is that), I’m back to finish watching Gigantic. It turns out the two leads of TMBG, John Flansburgh and John Lindell, are from Lincoln, Massachusetts. So that explains the recurring Ernie Boch theme in the show. “Triangle Man hates Ernie Boch. They have a fight. Triangle wins.” Ernie Boch got famous in Boston back in the 1970s and 1980s by inviting people to “come on down” to his Toyota dealership. I had thought TMBG was a band from Brooklyn, which is true only in the sense that the two Johns ended up there after college. Now that I know they are from New England, I may have to reconsider their entire body of work.

Set list:

The Cap'm
Damn Good Times
The Mesopotamians
Take Out the Trash
Don't Let's Start
XTC Vs. Adam Ant
It's Not My Birthday
Alphabet of Nations
E Eats Everything
Upside Down Frown
Memo to Human Resources
I'm Impressed
Mr. Me
Museum of Idiots
With the Dark
Withered Hope


Bee of the Bird of the Moth
Doctor Worm
Particle Man
Maybe I Know

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