They Might Be Giants at the Pabst--Oh, Boy

Third Coast Digest, October 30, 2011
by Rosy Ricks

Oh, Halloween weekend, you've been good to me. Delhi 2 Dublin on Thursday, They Might Be Giants and Gold Motel on Friday, and Saturday at the First Stage Children's Theater. What more could a girl ask for?

TMBG and openers Gold Motel put on quite a show at the Pabst Friday, complete with a last-minute dance pit. The band requested the first few rows of seats be removed, which also displaced the audience members with the best seats, but those with unexpected access to the front expressed their gratitude with lively, up-close appreciation of both bands on the bill.

In the vein of warm Cali pop, influenced no doubt by singer Greta Morgan's stint with Hush Sound as well as classic surf bands like the Beach Boys, Gold Motel brought a little bit of summer to the city. The band played a 45-minute set full of bright chords, rhythmic tambourines and clean poppy riffs.

All in all, Gold Motel's exchange with the audience was classically Midwestern. Jokes and quips gave personality to the show, warming the audience for the main event. After their set, the band retired to the merch table to thank audience members. A brother and sister duo from West Bend made a beeline, only to have their camera die at the quintessential moment. Hanging out with the band, we snapped a picture for them, and off they went--back home to revel in their proximity to one of their own celebrity icons. Gold Motel is working on another album now, with hopes of finding their own signature sound: something a little darker, a little more reflective of home.

Back inside the theater, the crowd pushed forward into the pit. They Might Be Giants took the stage with all the entitlement and ferocity one would expect from a 30-year-old band that has transcended time and space. John Flansburgh and John Linnell might not actually be giants, but their stage presence remains undeniable.

I first heard TMBG as a kid watching Tiny Toons. They did a short for "Particle Man," from 1990's classic Flood. It was an early taste of things to come with No! and beyond, teaching scientific concepts of mass using wrestlers. I've danced with my son to many a TMBG song, but still hadn't anticipated how much fun they'd be in concert.

On stage, John and John get down as hard as middle-aged geeks possibly can: they brought the audience quickly to their feet, where they stayed until the last note had been played. I imagine it's what many band kids want to be when they grow up: singing silly songs about math and science to a room full of people who think they're awesome.

TMBG has perfected the art of showmanship, and they certainly know their audience. Band geek chic before Ben Folds standardized the form, TMBG turned off the lights and split the crowd in half for a rousing crowd participation song: one half shouted "Apes" during guitar parts, the other half shouted "People" during drums. The Johns declared it a tie and insisted there would be a rematch after the show, "somewhere in the city." The audience demanded a rematch instead of an encore, but TMBG declined, saying "We have a credo in They Might Be Giants: delivering disappointment since 1982."

That wasn't the case Friday evening, at least. TMBG put a little birdhouse in the soul of Milwaukee's finest theater, where it will hopefully live forever.