Review: They Might Be Giants at the Pageant

Inside STL, September 27, 2011
by Kari Williams

From grammar jokes minutes into the opening act to the show ending with a song that became a staple for my high school class, the They Might Be Giants show at the Pageant Saturday was a nerd's dream come true.

TMBG kicked of their set with "Dead (Dial a Song)" then told the crowd that St. Louis is "truly [their] spiritual home" before going in to their latest single, "Can't Keep Johnny Down" and "Why Does the Sun Shine?"

In between songs, John Flansburgh referenced Mississippi Nights, Cicero's and Pointfest before going in to "Particle Man," where John Linnell kicked ass on the accordion. Until this show, I'd never seen anyone make an accordion look cool. But Linnell has that power.

Also, it's important to point out that the goofiness of the TMBG lyrics should in no way overshadow the impressiveness of their musical talent. They are musical masterminds who have a knack for the ridiculous but don't forget to cater to those who appreciate good instrumentals to accompany the absurdity.

Getting back to the show, before they played "Hollywood," Flansburgh said he needed a drink of his "special show tea," then exclaimed "LSD is goooooood!" Flansburgh and Linnell then spun off into a conversation about flavored LSD. "Turn Around" was next and TMBG proclaimed prior to the song that there is "nothing more exciting than singing about authenticity in a fake accent."

After "Turn Around," it was time for the dance contest, so said Flansburgh. He had four vinyl records to toss to the crowd as awards-- Four Sergeants, Lesley Gore's Greatest Hits, Haircut 100 and TMBG's “Join Us.” Once giving away the records, they went in to "Don't Let's Start" and "Your Racist Friend."

As the show went on, I couldn't help but notice that TMBG reminded me of a tame version of the cover band ~itis. And then Linnell brought out the bass clarinet and they claimed they were "going around the country stealing bass clarinets from schools." I'm pretty sure this makes TMBG the most rebellious yet educationally inclined music group I've ever seen.

After "Cloisonne," what had to be the weirdest part of the show happened next. Sock puppets, known as The Avatars of They, appeared on the screen behind the stage and began to "sing" and talk about their sponsor, Epic Fail Baloney Sandwiches. I cannot find the words to accurately describe this, so a video (from a couple years ago) will have to do it justice.

Things got back to as normal as expected with "Older" and "Alphabet of Nations" and "Old Pine Box." Surprisingly, the banter in between songs was probably more entertaining than the show itself. Flansburgh and Linnell have a way of making the time between songs entertaining and humorous; it comes across natural, which makes it that much more entertaining. The light, upbeat atmosphere was a change of pace from shows with songs focused on love, loss, anger and regret. But then again, it's not hard for songs about night lights, ancient civilizations and baloney sandwiches don't quite have the same effect.

As the show neared its end, Flansburgh brought out a 6 foot tall silk screen poster the band printed. Flansburgh said, "This could really spruce up that side of the barn you were thinking about painting," and then gave the poster to someone in the crowd.

Getting back to the music, they played "We Live in a Dump," which was dedicated to all of the people who live in apartments. "Birdhouse in your Soul" and "Withered Hope" preceded "Clap Your Hands."

The battle for the planet of the apes was next. Flansburgh had the crowd divide into two sections--the right side of the venue were people and the left side, apes. He had the crowd alternating in chants of "People! People!" and "Apes! Apes! Apes!" until he determined there was a tie. It was a fitting way to end the fiasco, according to Flansburgh, who then thanked all the people, apes, ladies and dudes. When the dudes yelled in deep, bellowing voices, Flansburgh responded with, "That was very dude-ly."

The main part of the set ended with "The Mesopotamians." It was the first time I've ever seen people fist pumping to ancient civilization references. They made my sophomore year of high school seem cool. And that continued into the encore. TMBG belted out "Careful What You Pack" and a song that essentially defined my high school class, "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." I had flashbacks to my ancient civilization class sophomore year, hearing that song for the first time. TMBG made a boring class exciting and a concert an educational throwback. It was one of the most unique, yet engaging concerts I've been to.

Jonathan Coulton opened the show with "Mr. Fancy Pants." The uniqueness of this song set the stage (no pun intended) for the rest of the night. Quirky, unusual and downright weird songs followed.

After his first song, the rest of the band joined Coulton. Coulton called them the Jonathan Coulton All-stars, then corrected himself -- because there are only two other band members -- by calling them the "Both Stars." Then he gave a shout out to good grammar. I was sold. No matter what else happened, I knew I was in for a good show.

Coulton went into "Code Monkey" (the only song I knew of his before this night) next, followed by "Sticking it to Myself" from his latest album, "Artificial Heart." Though all of his songs were catchy, witty and amusing, my favorite song was, "Good Morning Tucson," which is essentially mocking the absurdity of broadcast journalism. The next song was an unusual tune called "ShopVacs." I can't think of a better act to open a show for TMBG, as their attitudes, personas and performances were practically identical.

Proof that he was over with the crowd came when he announced he had only two songs left and the crowd booed. He ended his set with "Arguing While Shopping" and "I Feel Fantastic." Coulton definitely set the bar high. Having never heard of him until this show, I was immediately impressed. Not only because of the good grammar bit, but because his voice and musical talent were much more than I expected coming in to the show.

Coulton and TMBG put on a great show that was only added to by the dedicated TMBG fans and their ability to find an escape in the most absurdly enjoyable songs you could ever imagine being recorded.