They Might Be Giants
(Le) Poisson Rouge; New York, NY

I grew up listening to They Might Be Giants with my band nerd friends in high school. And I am willing to admit that most of my useless trivia knowledge comes from their extensive song library. We all know that old New York was once New Amsterdam for a reason, but did anyone appreciate our 11th president (James K. Polk) until 1996? I didn't think so; the man seized the whole southwest from Mexico!

Upon entering (Le) Poisson Rouge, I realized that the crowd was much older than I expected. Many of those in attendance probably saw They Might Be Giants when they broke in the early-’90s, and they keep coming back. The band has one of the most dedicated fanbases out there. They have brilliantly maintained an aging base while developing a younger one by releasing two children's albums. As the show progressed, at least four people surrounding me were keeping track of the 41-song setlist.

The venue is smaller than I would have expected. (Le) Poisson Rouge touts itself as being able to hold up to and over 800 people, but it didn't feel like it. Rouge has a very intimate feeling. These guys could be doing decent-sized venues across the countries, but have chosen to put on several smaller shows in New York City from late-2008 through early-2009. Each NYC show had an overall theme to the night, and I attended the playing of Flood, the band's 1990 major label release. It was this album, with tracks like "Birdhouse in your Soul" and "Particle Man," that really transitioned them from college rock staples to alternative gods.

Bathed in fuchsia and turquoise, the band ascended the three steps that caused them to tower over the crowd. Surrounded by horns to their left and a seasoned gig band to their backs John Linnell and John Flansburgh launched into the album's first track, "Theme From Flood." The "hardest working band still taking the L train" would play the entirety of Flood for their first set and then take a quick break and return for a second set.

Its interesting to see Linnell and Flansburgh interacting on stage together. While Flansburgh flails around and is full of energy, Linnell remains stoic, playing the keyboard or accordion with very small but deliberate movements. From the start, you can tell this is a band that has been playing together for a very long time. Throughout Flood, the band remained traditionalists and tried to recreate what they recorded in 1990, even going so far as listening to their own album to figure out how "Istanbul" was executed.

As the set break came and went, the band transformed. I was impressed by the first set, but it didn't feel quite like a show -- it was as if they were going through the motions so they could get to the second set quickly. When that time came, the band became far more animated. These were the hits that we all know and love. Not to diminish Flood, I just couldn't wait to hear "S-E-X-X-Y" any longer.

The second set featured too many gems to mention. One of the best parts was the inclusion of the new song, "Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma)," a response to "Why Does The Sun Shine?" Turns out their explanation of how the sun functions was incorrect -- it isn't a mass of incandescent gas; it involves a fourth state of matter, plasma. Throughout the show, there was a quiet echo of people singing every word to every song. This was only evident when the band would switch something up or slow down the tempo, revealing the audience's conditioning to their favorite songs.

Since the first time I heard "Particle Man" on Tiny Tunes Adventures and growing up with Apollo 18 in my head, I had wanted to see TMBG. It was an incredible show if only for the versatility alone. After 20+ years of being strange guys, The Johns are comfortable with their career, and I don't see TMBG slowing down anytime soon.


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