I know I’ve seen They Might Be Giants (TMBG) four times. It could be more. They do blur together a bit. They are one of the most fun live band experiences out there.
When I was a sophomore in college, TMBG came out with their first real single, “Don’t Let’s Start” in 1987. Living in the LA area, KROQ played all the cool new music and had it in heavy rotation. I loved it. Acquired the album and enjoyed it, but not as much as that one song.
Fast forward to junior year, 1988. TMBG had released more music and I met Alice who was a huge TMBG fan. She played more TMBG for me and once again I found a few songs that I loved and enjoyed the rest.
Now, TMBG are a difficult band to describe. They are smart. Funny. Ironic. Their lyrics cut every which way. They take traditional rock arrangements, turn them on their side, add accordions and funky horns and quirky synths and create a singular, unique sound. They really explore their musical space. They write children’s songs and Disney theme songs. They have an unreal appreciation for history and weave it into their act. They are, in essence, a renaissance band full of renaissance men.
All of the shows I’ve seen have had great moments. They’ve also all been within the last six years. Turns out it took me fifteen years from when I first heard them to get to one of their shows.
The first show that I saw was postponed because of September 11th. Rescheduled for about nine months later. The Crystal Ballroom was sweltering hot. The band had great energy and got great energy back from the Portland crowd. Two moments stand out: the extended drum solo where the drummer played in different styles prompted by the crowd: from Charlie Watts to Stevie Wonder to Animal from the Muppets. Hi-Larious. The second was when they played “New York City”. A fast paced, heartfelt love song. In the aftermath of September 11th, and the connection that show had to the event, the song meant more that night to me than it ever did before and ever will again. I’m certain of that.
I saw the band most recently in September of this year. Roseland theater this time. I really enjoyed the show as they played some more obscure songs than before. They even played “We’re The Replacements” which is a personal fave that I’d never seen them play live before. There was a horn section. They received phone calls from Carl Sagan’s grave. Good stuff.
What I really love about this band and its audience is that every fan of theirs has a different favorite song. They have that many good ones and speak to that diverse an audience. My personal favorites include the aforementioned “We’re The Replacements” plus “’Til My Head Falls Off”, “Ana Ng”, “Why Does The Sun Shine?” and “Another First Kiss”.
So, if TMBG come to your town and you’ve ever enjoyed their recorded music, go check them out. You will leave with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. You might also feel a bit smarter.