They Might Be Giants is going to play a show on the last Sunday of every month at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. Jesse 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 second installment of our TMBG musical biography.
[Marisa’s Note: Jesse was away for the February show. He left it up to me to cover it. That’s why you didn’t get a report until the eve of the March show. I am the worst.]
They Might Be Giants at the Music Hall of Williamsburg: 2/22/15
The theme of this show was They Might Be Giants, the self-titled “pink album,” so there are lots of oldies here. My date for the evening was the always-up-for-a-TMBG-show Rayme. (The Instagram photos of the show are hers,) Off we go.
1. Chess Piece Face
So, yeah, the band started off the set with “Chess Piece Face”. I’m not sure if I’ve seen that happen in my 20 years of going to TMBG shows.
2. I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die
It’s worth noting that the pink album, on which this song appears, was released in 1986. The ‘paedia, as Jason calls it, tells me that the most popular songs of 1986 were “That’s What Friends Are For,” and “Say You, Say Me.” (That’s probably more of what I was actually listening to at the time, if I’m honest. I was super young but I watched a lot of MTV as a child.) Meanwhile, TMBG were doing songs like “I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die.” It makes me appreciate them even more.
3. Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
Ugh, I love this song so much. TMBG were also innovators in that they filmed this video at the Williamsburg waterfront before it went from shabby to cool and way before it went from cool to i-banker condos.
4. Doctor Worm
My most fertile period of TMBG showgoing was when I was a sophomore in college and Michelle would be kind enough to drive us anywhere in the Boston/Providence/New Haven/New York City polygon to catch a show (especially if OK Go were opening). “Doctor Worm” was in heavy rotation at the time, and it was always a highlight. They would always mess with the song during the breakdown, and my favorite was when they’d somehow slip “Let It Be” in there, kinda. “Speaking words of wisdom, Doctor Worm.”
5. The Famous Polka
I’ve been to so many TMBG songs that I actually recognize a few of the band’s on-stage hand signals to each other. If Flansburgh puts out two fingers, it means “skip the next song.” I saw him use it at this show to go from “Doctor Worm” into “The Famous Polka”. The band did it without stopping between songs — they just went right into it. At this point in their careers, they are so, so tight as a band.
6. Hide Away Folk Family
This was the song that Flansburgh skipped. They had to go back to it because it’s from the pink album, and they promised to play all of the pink album songs. There’s no hand-signal for “go back to the one we skipped,” apparently. Flansburgh had to say it in the microphone.
7. Boat of Car
More Jesse’s jam than mine.
8. Let Me Tell You About My Operation
New song. This show was pretty split between the ultra-old and ultra-new. The pink album has a lot of songs on it, so there wasn’t a ton of room for in-betweeners.
9. Everything Right Is Wrong Again
I was thinking about looking up the lyrics to this song, and thinking of the best place to do that. Then I remembered that, in high school, we used to go to tmbg.org, where they had all the lyrics and also crazy interpretations of the lyrics. Like how “Boat of Car” is secretly about The Grapes of Wrath. The “Everything Right Is Wrong Again” interpretation says the song is self-explanatory, but does go into details about the movie The Long, Long Trailer, which I have never seen.
10. Man, It’s So Loud in Here
This was also in heavy rotation during the college years, before the song eventually wound up on Mink Car. We. Loved. It. But it’s one of those songs that, when it finally was officially released, came out a chromosome different from the live version. It killed me. I was always on the hunt for a live recording or video that was closer to the version I remembered. (Thanks, Twistid.) I think the one that I had that was closest was actually just audio from their appearance on Conan.
11. Absolutely Bill’s Mood
When I first went to college, I was extremely homesick. When I was trying to make new friends (one of the worst processes in the entire world), I was always on the hunt for the TMBG nerds. Not that I could only be friends with TMBG nerds (I wasn’t), but it was an easy shorthand for my kind of person. It turns out, the person who lived in my dorm room before me had written the lyrics to “Absolutely Bill’s Mood” — especially the part about the room being uncomfortably small — in pencil along the top of the walls. I didn’t notice until the spring, after I had already found friends, when the dude came back to visit his old room and pointed it out to me.
12. Authenticity Trip
The best parts about this song are the shout-outs to Ichabod Crane and Sleepy Hollow. Westchester!
13. Rhythm Section Want Ad
Love. I can sing along with the fast parts of this song. Maybe I will do that right now…
…and I just did.
14. (She Was A) Hotel Detective
Not my favorite!
15. Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel
This and “Erase” (see No. 17) are two of the best new ones.
16. Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes
When people tell me that Lincoln is better than the pink album, I think this song and “Rhythm Section Want Ad” are usually my defenses.
Everyone gets on the bus out of town, and the lights start going out one-by-one!
18. Rabid Child
From here on out, with the exception of the next two songs, the setlist gets pretty pink-album-heavy, like they had to squeeze them all in. There are a lot of songs on that album!
19. Music Jail, parts 1 and 2
Not as good as “Erase,” “Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel,” or “Answer.” I’d say those are the three of the best dial-a-songs so far.
20. Birdhouse in Your Soul
I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this at every TMBG show I’ve been to. I can get sick of “Older” and “Particle Man,” but I never get sick of this one. I guess this where I should credit my older sister for getting me into TMBG to begin with. We saw that Tiny Toons episode together, and then when she heard those songs again on her boyfriend’s Flood cd, she brought it home (and it eventually became mine — sorry not sorry, John). We would listen to it when she drove me around, and when “Birdhouse” came on and the parts would split up, she would sing the “while you’re at it,” part, and I’d do the “WHO WATCHES OVER YOU” really loud.
21. Toddler Hiway
Performed by puppets, as you do.
22. Number Three
I don’t know why Jesse is so down on this song. It’s a perfectly cromulent song.
23. 32 Footsteps
Other albums I’d like to see covered during this residence, the way the pink album was covered at this show: Factory Showroom, which is underrated and brings me back to the time when I first started to see them. John Henry, since I don’t think I’ve ever seen a John Henry show before. Usually John Henry songs are lumped into “shows with horns,” which leaves the door open for “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” or “Withered Hope,” two songs I do not like. Join Us, since I love that one and those songs seems to have fallen off the map even though they’re fairly new. Or at least I’d like to see “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” back in the rotation.
24. Alienation’s for the Rich
This was my 35th TMBG show, by the way.
25. Youth Culture Killed My Dog
Some notable bands I’ve seen open for TMBG: OK Go, a lot. Cub & Brian Dewan (separate shows, but lumped together because they’re only exciting to TMBG fans). Mike Doughty. Mike Viola. The Moldy Peaches. Demetri Martin. Moon Hooch (only exciting to Nathaniel and Rob). Themselves, as “Sapphire Bullets,” a Flood cover band (and they called themselves by different names). My first show ever, the Magnetic Fields were the opening band, and I pretty much hated them. I learned to love them later, but when Jesse and I saw the Magnetic Fields again at BAM, I could totally see why I hated them to begin with. Jonathan Coulton opened for them this time, and I feel like it was the exact same set as the last time I saw him open for TMBG. Time to write some new songs, Coulton.
26. Don’t Let’s Start
When I finally did make friends in college, one of them, Ethan — who wasn’t particularly a TMBG fan — told me that his summer camp had an organized line dance to “Don’t Let’s Start.” He showed it to me, and it was very simple, but I’ve never seen anyone do it at shows.
27. She’s An Angel
TMBG doesn’t really have a reputation for writing good love songs (which is odd, because they both seem happily married), but “She’s An Angel” kind of knocks the love-song thing out of the park. They’re like, “We wrote the perfect one, we put it on our first album, we don’t need to do it again.”
28. Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
Another song I hear all the time at concerts, but this time it was special to me because I had just gotten back from actually going to Istanbul! (We got free t-shirts for buying the Music Hall of Williamsburg tickets in bulk, so I chose the red Istanbul one as a not-really souvenir.) And yes, I had this song in my head the entire time during the trip.
29. The Mesopotamians
I always watch Dan Miller during this song, because he gets really into singing the backup parts.
30. The Day
I never got this song, and after seeing it live I still don’t.
Another really good new one. I really like the image of “an ocean of whiskey and time.”
32. Robot Parade
Ending with a song off No. This reminds me of one of my favorite shows ever. It was at Toad’s Place in New Haven, and it was actually a Flood show. Everything proceeded as normal: They played Flood all the way through, they played some non-Flood songs, they did two encores like they always do, and then they left the stage. But for some reason, they came back on and did “Sleepwalkers” after the second encore. I don’t think they even turned the lights back on for it. The song has kind of a haunting quality if you hear it semi-unexpectedly in the dark, and it was a really different feeling to the end of the show.
Previously in the They Might Be Giants: Bibliography and Biography in Brooklyn Series: