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- May 23, 1998

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They Might Be Giants
A Concert Review

April 4, 1997

The Metro

Chicago, IL

A Review by
The Dude on the Right
This guy I know was talking to me one day when suddenly the topic of different bands came up. Seems he is a huge fan of They Might Be Giants (TMBG) and wanted me to know how cool they were, that they were playing in Chicago, and I should go cover them. Me, I'm like "I recognize the name but can't recall any of their songs." He rattles off some song titles, I look at him rather strangely, and then say "Alright, I'll try to cover them, they better be good."

Well, I make my way to The Metro in Chicago for the second of their two-night, sold-out stand where I'm struck by the crowd. First off, it's mostly dudes. Bummer. Then I'm noticing that all in all it's pretty diverse - I mean it ranged from young clean-cut teens to punkers, from yuppies to grandma and grandpa. Interesting. Then the show begins.

This turned out to be one of the "Tape Machine Shows," sort of a let's turn back the clock and play some oldies first, take a short break, and then bring on the band. Starting off, on stage, were John Flansburgh and John Linnell, known simply as John and John. John plays guitar and handles vocals while John takes care of an accordion (gotta love a band with an accordion), sax, keys, and he sings too. I'm thinking "not much of a percussion section," but then I realized exactly why they call it a "Tape Machine Show." Suddenly, accompanying John and John, came this really talented tape/drum machine, that, well, seems to have lost its hearing because it was way, and I mean way, loud. And so the show continued.

I have to be honest, other than the "Birdhouse in Your Soul" song and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," my knowledge of TMBG songs is slim to none. I guess that with the cult following the band has, and none of my friends ever being in that cult, I never was exposed to the weird genius that seems to be John and John. But up there they were, John and John, who seem to be able to mix a little stand-up comedy, witty commentary, and interesting instruments (John played, for no better way to put it, a big stick for one of the songs) into a show that had the crowd going wild at the ding of a xylophone. My problem, and I think I was the only one there with this problem, was that I wasn't familiar with the songs. So, I'm trying to listen while the crowd is singing along, and that damn drum machine dude is just drowning out what sounded like some of the most fun and interesting lyrics I've heard in a long time. It sounded kinda folksy, kinda rappish, kinda rock, kinda polka, but that's the best I could understand while the crowd was bouncing up and down, screaming as if they were in hell, and just plain old having a good time. And so the end of the first set came to a close.

After an acceptable 20 minute break John and John returned with some friends, a full blown band, and the bass still cranked up. So, again, while the rest of the crowd is singing along, I'm in the same predicament as before - the bass was drowning out the lyrics. Oh well, it still seemed to be only a problem for me because the crowd was having a blast, even grandma and grandpa were dancing up a storm, and when the confetti tube blasted during "James K. Polk" the place was up for grabs. Well, so I thought, that was all until I got to experience two of the tallest "singers" I have ever seen while the crowd went nuts. I guess calling them "singers" is a stretch, but I always get confused on what to call ventriloquist dummies. I mean they sort of have a personality, but they aren't really people, so I guess I'll stick with "singers" in the quotes. Approaching the height of the ceiling in The Metro, these "singers" overshadowed the crowd, and I now started to realize why TMBG had this cult following. See, TMBG don't get a lot of radio play, at least not here in The Windy City, kinda like a lot of pretty cool bands, but they do put on a fun show, and fun shows go by word of mouth. Those fans buy the CD's, those fans know the words, and those fans just add to the fun of a group like They Might Be Giants.

As the night was coming to a close I was really pretty impressed at the great band John and John had, how dedicated their fans are, and I always like a band that can show its fans a good time. There didn't seem to be many disappointed people there, well, all except me, but that's my own fault for not knowing a lot of their songs, and a lot of those same fans were glad to hear the older songs, with John and John playing them as the duo they started as. Any band that has an accordion and will play a polka automatically have a thumb up on other bands, but toss that in with a fun time and a disco ball and the other thumb rises to attention too. So, it's TWO "THEY'VE GOT AN ACCORDION" THUMBS UP for the They Might Be Giants boys. Next time around I should know a few more of their songs so the deaf drum machine dude won't bother me so much, but I just wish I could have picked up on some of the lyrics John and John have become famous for. Oh well.

That's it for this one, I'm The Dude on the Right!! L8R!!

 

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