"Geek Rock" Band They Might Be Giants to Play Cain's Ballroom

Tulsa World, January 29, 2012
by Jennifer Chancellor

"Can you call me back in, like, three minutes? I need to feed my cats. They're hippos," said They Might Be Giants cohort John Flansburgh in a recent phone call from New York City.

If anyone had any doubt of the "geek" part of They Might Be Giants' 30-year legacy of influential "geek rock," well, now you've been schooled.

And so has Flansburgh, he said.

"In high school, well, back then I'd say 'Them's fightin' words,' but today the term really means something else. It means quirky and smart, which is sexy now."

It does. It is.

"Hearing people say they're 'geeking out' about something is so positive. I mean, people whip out their cell phones to fact check conversations I have in bars. There's nothing wrong with being wonderfully lusty about knowledge."

Plus, Flansburgh is lusty about another thing: Cain's Ballroom. The last time his band played a gig there was in 1992, he said.

"I'm a huge Bob Wills fan," he said of the performer who made the venue famous. "Those big murals of famous people on the wall. Really, of all the touring we've done, the South and Southwest were our biggest, rowdiest fans. Cain's sort of embodies that for me."

Recent years have been kind to TMBG. The band has won two Grammy Awards, one in 2002 for the tune "Boss of Me," which served as the theme to the television show "Malcolm in the Middle." They created more than 20 tracks that were the "incidental" music throughout the series.

TMBG won a second Grammy in 2009 for the acclaimed kids album "Here Come the 123s."

With the popularity of the band's work for children, some may find it surprising that the guys want the show to be for those 14 or older.

"First off, we're adults and we perform like adults. We swear. We always have," Flansburgh said. "We might perform at 105 decibels with a crowd that includes the drunk, stoned and bipolar. Progressive parents just love us. I'm cool with that. But as a conscientious member of the human race, I really just don't want to see kids trampled in a mosh pit or exposed to our adult humor. ... I've seen teens taken out in an ambulance from stage diving, things like that. I don't want to see it again."

That sounds a little bit scary, but it's by far more fun than anything else. Wednesday's concert at Cain's is a grown-up party, he said.

The band formed in 1982 in New York City's East Village and has always been known for its quirky use of lyrics and sound and experimental indie rock leanings. TMBG was as an integral part of early '80s visual art, music and performance art.

The band does sing about quirky things. He and band co-founder John Linnell are darlings of the book-smart circuit and the punkier, thumb-your-nose-at-authority crowd. Their sound incorporates everything from new wave to riff rock, dance to dangerous.

Tunes like "Don't Let's Start," and "Birdhouse In Your Soul" were early college chart hits, along with the awesomely ridiculous cover of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." In three decades, they've never "broken up" or "had a reunion show."

For 2007s studio album "The Else," the two Johns worked with producers the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys, Hanson). For 2011's "Join Us," the band took the album on themselves, Flansburgh said. True to form, the record's cover features a pink monster truck hearse that's become a fan favorite.

Noted graphic designer Paul Sahre made a downloadable pdf that people have been downloading "like mad" to create their very own pink nightmare.

"Our fans are like that. We're really happy and bubbly and crazy but with that is a little darkness. ... We laugh at the absurdity of ourselves."

Sahre blew up his copy to life-size scale and made a video about it.

"It's a crazy death trip scene," Flansburgh joked, then laughed.