Brooklyn Originals

Bowery Presents, December 31, 2012
by Geoff Nelson

They Might Be Giants are certifiable Brooklyn OGs, a fact most of last night’s crowd knew even before John Flansburgh mentioned he used to live on N. 5th St. back when Music Hall of Williamsburg was still called Northsix. It ran deeper still. Most in the audience possessed intimate, personal memories of the Reagan years, and most probably knew They Might Be Giants once ran a service called Dial-A-Song where fans, or anyone really, could call a local Brooklyn number and hear Flansburgh and John Linnell sing songs they had recorded on their answering machine. Further, for the They Might Be Giants completist, many of these fans certainly knew the hidden track on 1996’s Factory Showroom, “Token Back to Brooklyn,” could only be accessed by pressing the rewind button on your CD player during the album’s first song. A lot has changed in Brooklyn, but They Might Be Giants have remained largely the same: still weird, still deeply postmodern and still churning out genre-spanning pop by the fistful.

Over three nights at Music Hall of Williamsburg, TMBG are playing a different set of albums each night spanning the band’s 30-year career. Last night, the second, the audience was treated to music from Lincoln and Flood, two early records, as well as a few songs from their latest LP, Join Us, and the upcoming Nanobots, the latter of which, unsurprisingly, will feature 25 songs. The band played their eponymous song, “They Might Be Giants,” then playing other Flood material, “Letterbox” and “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair” before switching to Lincoln songs “Cowtown,” “Lie Still, Little Bottle” and “Pencil Rain.” Each featured the group’s signature pop hooks, the Johns looking a bit older but still switching from a range of instruments with deftness and ease.

The second half of the set contained the band’s bigger songs, “Ana Ng,” “Minimum Wage” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” They Might Be Giants closed with “Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal,” which joked openly about “pay-for-play” radio. It was a fitting end, even before the next two encores, a bit of commercial humor for a band that’s seen the borough make and break so many other bands since TMBG formed in 1982. It didn’t mean they were bitter—“Birdhouse in Your Soul” went to No. 3 on the U.S. Modern Rock chart in 1990—just old enough to see the horizon for what it is, a moving target. Appropriately, they closed the night with “The Mesopotamians,” a song about a fictional rock band that took the name of the long lost civilization and worried if anyone would remember or understand them, a bit like a band that might have been giants in a borough like Brooklyn.