They Might Be Giants: Bibliography and Biography in Brooklyn (April Edition)

They Might Be Giants is playing a show on the last Sunday of every month of 2015 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. Marisa and I have tickets to all of the Williamsburg shows that have been put on sale so far, and we will be reporting on each show. Here is the four installment of our TMBG musical biography, arriving just before the May show, where the band will play all or most songs from their 2007 The Else. For the April show, which spotlighted the band’s new record Glean, comedian, actor, writer, and contributor Jeremy Bent of Brooklyn takes up the TMBG-notation pen.

They Might Be Giants at the Music Hall of Williamsburg: 4/26/15

1. Can’t Keep Johnny Down
Great kick-off. “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” feels like it’s part of the “Modern TMBG Era” Canon. I’ve heard it frequently at shows over the last few years, and I’m never sad to hear it. It’s got that classic TMBG DNA of irresistible melody and weird lyrical content.

2. Music Jail, Pt. 1 and 2

3. The Mesopotamians
My mother read my brother and I the epic of Gilgamesh when we were, I believe, 6 and 8 years old. I did not know this was unusual until I was an adult, but probably explains a lot about me. But I think the Mesopotamians is a great song whether you’re familiar with the cultures of the Fertile Crescent or not.

4. Answer

5. Number Three
The first TMBG album I ever got my mitts on was the self-titled first album. I still love it, but I feel like, probably incorrectly at this point, that I’ve heard very few of the songs off this album live. It helped that they gave out a live version of the first album for free; that put a lot of my first album anxiety to bed.

6. Bills, Bills, Bills
Another unexpected but surprisingly entertaining cover in the “Tubthumping” vein, due out from the AV Club Undercover series. I’m impressed how the Johns somehow make a late 90s R&B hit work in their inimitable style. Hearing Flans sing, “You trifling, good-for-nothing type of brother” might be initially jarring, but something about the driving chorus with its pizzicato hits makes it sound like a real (perhaps John Henry-era?) TMBG track.

7. When Will You Die
Another inductee to the Modern TMBG Era canon. It’s got that triumphant “I hate you” vibe and I embrace it.

8. Older
It’s true, you know.

9. Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel
Flans asked everyone to wave their cellphones in the air during this song, and it was actually really heartwarming. Something about Johns bathed in the cool LED light created by the audience made me think, “Man, even if the infrastructure of society crumbled, we’d still find a way to have concerts, because they are the best.”

10. I Palindrome I
No one can deny the pleasurable symmetry of the line “And I am a snake head / Eating the head of the opposite side.” No one.

11. Damn Good Times
One of my favorite TMBG guitar solos. Don’t know why, but the slowly accelerating tempo makes me just crave the release of the power chording at the end.

12. 32 Footsteps
TWO first album tracks? Fantastic. “32 Footsteps” is one of the tracks on the first album where you can really hear the drum machine, for better or worse. That janky “de-doop de-doop-i-doop” of drum beats right after the chorus always sticks out as one of the most memorable parts of the song, and as one of the chintziest sounds on the whole album.

13. Good to Be Alive

14. Doctor Worm
Still the all-time greatest “TMBG with horns” song.

15. Let Me Tell You About My Operation

16. Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
One of the best non-music things TMBG has ever done is the commentary track on Direct from Brooklyn for the Tiny Toon Adventures music videos for “Particle Man” and “Istanbul.” They apparently had never seen them before, and just took a bunch of money back in the early 90s to license the songs to the show without caring much what they were gonna do with them. So as they watch the videos for the first time, it’s clear they don’t like them very much, but they also don’t dislike them enough to really get worked up. At one point during “Particle Man,” Linnell (I think) says, “These videos are awfully violent, aren’t they?” and Flansburgh, bone dry, replies, “Well they’re just reflecting of the violent nature of the music.”

17. You’re On Fire
Modern TMBG Era Canon member for sure. The left/right pan-bouncing guitar riff at the start is just great, plus the phrase “combustible heads / I read an article / all about them” has such a perfect TMBG cadence that this also feels like it could’ve been a much earlier track.

18. New York City

19. Ana Ng
I started trying to teach myself bass in college, and one of the first bass lines I managed to plunk out was “Ana Ng.” It’s now 11 years later, and I’ve forgotten it. But I was able to reconstruct it by ear pretty quick, so I’ve clearly learned something about music. Thanks, TMBG.

20. I Can Help the Next in Line
I hadn’t heard a lot of these Glean songs, but in checking them out after the show, I discovered some great videos for them.

21. Authenticity Trip

22. James K. Polk

23. Alphabet of Nations
Can we stop and appreciate how difficult it must be for John & John to remember all the lyrics to the verbose, wordplay-filled songs they write? It’s crazy.

24. Underwater Woman

25. Man, It’s So Loud In Here

26. Withered Hope

27. Unprounceable

28. Robot Parade
My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their first child next month, and I’m really looking forward to being a Fun Uncle and doing a weird robot dance to this song with my niece.

29. Erase

30. Fingertips
I remember seeing them in 2001, when they had only just figured out how to play “Fingertips” live, and the crowd getting really excited when they realized they were going to play it. Now that I’ve seen them do it so many times, I’m less wowed by quick genre-shifting and rapid changes in style, but more impressed that “Fingertips,” against all logic, holds up as a single song unit composed of 21 separate movements. You have to respect the prescience of “Fingertips,” designed to be scattered across the album when “Shuffle” was still a brand-new feature on CD players. That it can continue to be a fun grab bag of weirdness every time you shuffle Apollo 18, even 23 years later on your iPhone, is both unexpected and great.

31. Dead

32. Birdhouse in Your Soul
I learned while checking dates on albums for this piece that Flood is a platinum album. Good for them!

Previously in this series:
March! (featuring Flood)
February! (featuring the Pink Album)