Enjoy the geeky humor of They Might Be Giants
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
With the Jack Rubies.
At the Orpheum Theater, May 18.
By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS have a certain geeky charm about them. With their horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts buttoned all the way to the top, they could easily fit in with the average MIT nerd. (The only nerd paraphernalia they're missing are the ubiquitous pocket protectors.) But they're cool geeks; the kind of geeks who get loose and funky at parties and actually manage to tell funny jokes. That's what most of their songs are like: extended monologues-from-outer-space about shoehorns with teeth, purple toup'ees, and rabid children.
They Might Be Giants (John Flansburgh and John Linnell, two natives of Lincoln, MA) brought their eclectic road show to the Orpheum on May 18. Their stage setup was sparse: seven oversized postage stamps and a wooden column topped with a metronome. The metronome proved to be not just a prop, but a musical necessity for the show: its steady ticking provided the percussion part for the opening number, "Lie Still, Little Bottle," and for "Where Your Eyes Don't Go."
The only problem with TMBG's nerd shtick was that the complicated nature of their songs forced them to perform with a recorded tape in the background. A song like "Twisting" requires at least two guitars, an accordion, a drum kit, and a cheesy-sounding Farfisa organ, and there's only so much you can do with two musicians on stage.
So, for the larger part of the night, Flansburgh stuck to his Telecaster and Linnell to his accordion, and both sang to the pre-recorded backing tape. There were occasional moments when the tape was silent -- most notably "Shoehorn with Teeth" and "Kiss Me, Son of God." Still, it was disappointing that TMBG was willing to sacrifice musical spontaneity for the sake of preserving the sound of the original recording of a song.
Even with the mechanical aspects of the show, it was impossible not to enjoy TMBG's goofy, good-natured humor. After all, when you've got songs with lyrics like "Cowtown," you can't lose:
I'm going down to Cowtown
Cow's a friend to me
Lives beneath the ocean and
that's where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves
And that's where I will be
I'm going to see the cow
beneath the sea.
The group whipped through over 22 songs in about an hour and 10 minutes, not surprising since every one of their albums has had 19 songs and clocked in at under 45 minutes. The set list drew favorites from all three TMBG albums, including "She's an Angel," "Purple Toup'ee," and "Particle Man," but "Don't Let's Start" got the most enthusiastic response from the crowd. That was the song that became a surprise hit on progressive radio and MTV, and paved the way for later TMBG semi-hits "Ana Ng" and the current "Birdhouse in Your Soul."
They Might Be Giants were preceded by London's Jack Rubies and their exuberant, brash guitar rock. Lead singer Ian Wright's guitar solos were uninspiring, but the Rubies seemed much more interested in merely laying down a solid, tight rhythm over which Wright could sing his tuneful, clever songs. Their "Swamp Snake" was the highlight of their set with its unusual, impassioned plea "Let me be your swamp snake."
Lie Still, Little Bottle
Your Racist Friend
Lucky Ball and Chain
Purple Toupee/The Famous Polka
She's an Angel
Someone Keeps Moving My Chair
Where Your Eyes Don't Go
Chess Piece Face
Birdhouse in Your Soul
Twisting (In the Wind)
Hearing Aid (about working at Strawberries)
Cowtown (use quote here: `I'm going down to Cowtown/The cow's a friend to me/Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be/Beneath the waves, the waves/..../I'm going to see the cow beneath the sea.'
Kiss Me, Son of God
Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes
Shoehorn With Teeth
Encores: Don't Let's Start
Hide Away, Folk Family (screams from hell, crashing plane)
"This is the first time we've had the beach ball thing. We're waiting for the frisbee thing next."
selling fezzes($25) in lobby
complete power geeks -- plaid and tightly-checked shirts nearly buttoned all the way to the top; horn-rimmed glasses, accordion; but studly nerds -- the kind who are lots of fun when you get them drunk at parties. Folksy; friendly; adorable.
Stage setup: 7 oversized postage stamps, wooden column w/metronome (for "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" and "Lie Still, Little Bottle." Set much too short at about 1:10.