LiveDC: They Might Be Giants @ Rams Head Live

Brightest Young Things, April 9, 2013
by JEB Gavin

Theory: weirdness can be passed down generation to generation far easier than angst.  Every generation wants to experience their own angst through the prism of their own weird indie rock music, but weirdness becomes institutional.  If your parents weaned you on They Might Be Giants, that becomes your normal, whereas any attempt to convince you their Jets to Brazil record evokes the same emotion as your current pop-emo obsession is futile.  Saturday night’s TMBG concert at Rams Head Live proved- at least to me, not only is yesterday’s weirdness today’s normal, but we are in fact a majority minority of oddballs.

A They Might Be Giants show isn’t all that different from your usual indie rock concert: fellas in beanies and blazers milling about, swapping guitars and keyboards for baritone clarinets and accordions, a pretty basic light show with a projected backdrop of mostly nonsensical footage.  The major difference, or rather, the most notable difference is everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.  Too often these shows are a sulkfest, an excuse to gather together and feel good about feeling bad.  Even amid erudite references to the Star Chamber (a nod to the encroaching tiers of the venue,) and pitting sides of the audience against one another in a quasi-evolutionary battle, it all feels fun.  It feels like being a kid again, which is sort of the point of seeing bands you loved when you were young, except without all that damned angst.

This particular tour was in support of their latest album, Nanobots, which they’d periodically remind the audience was on sale.  Because they were selling it.  And touring behind it.  And reminding you the new album was released last month.  And was on sale right there in the venue.  It would’ve been annoying, except the repetitiveness is more reminiscent of a kids’ TV show geared towards adults.  Shades of all your favorite way-too-smart-for-the-room media comes flooding back, golden era Simpsons episodes, Clone High, and especially Sifl and Olly.  I bring up the world’s foremost slacker sock puppets because about two thirds of the way into the concert, most everyone left the stage, and John and John (the two Johns) donned socks with button eyes and proceeded to talk just off stage, on a camera projected on the backdrop about, well, nothing in particular.  There was some discussion of SCOTUS, and of the new pope, and possibly naming what I suppose would be an anti-pope who was also an android, and then the puppets sang a song.  Sure, it wasn’t “James K. Polk,” or “S-E-X-X-Y,” but you can’t expect everything from sock puppets.  I mean, they’re sock puppets.  The band played those songs on their own.

Oh, and as a side note, I’m quite ticked I missed opener Moon Hooch in favor of watching sports.  It’s two saxophonists and a drummer, playing what I can only describe as jazz skronk, and it is delightful.  The first song I’d heard of theirs was “Contra,” which features some unnecessary vocals, but when it’s just the three guys going crazy, well that’s just spectacular.