In what was something of a celebratory triad, beloved indie pop rockers They Might Be Giants stopped at the Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville this past Thursday to unleash their quirky and melodic mastery to the masses.
The Brooklyn-bred band consisting of two primary members, John Linnell and John Flansburgh, celebrated their 40th anniversary as a unit, performed their certified platinum 1990 album Flood, and continued to push their 2021 project, BOOK.
Upon entering the bowling alley/venue and making our way down the long hall towards the stage, immediately we were greeted with a sea of heads adorned in what looked like Burger King crowns. Perhaps these guys have a special connection to BK, I thought.
Upon closer examination, they turned out to be free paper hats at the merch booth with “THEY” springing up from the front.
What soon struck me after scoping out the crowd was the age demographics.
TMBG have their tried and true fans that grew up with them over the decades, but also have a profound effect on younger generations, notably those who got accustomed to their children’s songs and albums.
It doesn’t take long to gather TMBG harnesses a very effervescent kid-friendly vibe to much of their music. Their songs has been featured on Tiny Toons, the Spongebob musical, and perhaps most famously, their song “Boss of Me” was the theme of 2000s sitcom Malcolm in the Middle.
Moments before the show started, I talked to a young 16-year-old fan, Olive, whose excitement for the show radiated. “I grew up listening to the children’s albums that they made, so I’ve been like a life-long fan.” She was one of the many rocking the “THEY” paper hat.
A few steps in front of her was a middle-aged gentleman, Tim, who drove in from Dallas, Texas, to see TMBG. I asked him what song or album turned him into a super fan, and sure enough it was Flood. “Flood is definitely the first one that I really know all the words to.” Tim was with his sister, Janet, who lives in Nashville, and said it was their fourth time seeing them together.
Flood boasts fan favorites and some of their biggest hits like “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Particle Man,” and several others.
The show kicked off with a bang, as their kaleidoscopic pinball sounds bounced around the room with frantic abandon, much to the crowd’s hollering delight.
Their performance and sound is perfect for the day and age we live in with attention spans being non-existent, and I don’t think this is coincidence. They offered lots of tempo, tone, and timing changes, all kinds of bonkers and zany yet melodic sounds, but all very structured. Very few steady driving grooves were delivered. Quirky, silly, stream of consciousness-type lyrics had the crowd grinning from ear to ear at all times, and you could’t find one person not engaged.
“Nashville: the town with the highest percentage of flat pickers per audience member,” Flansburgh said after the opening few tracks to many a hoot n’ holler. “We’ll all be staring at our fretboards a little more carefully because you guys are here.”
Linnell then mentioned their failed Grammy prowess with their album, BOOK. “The snacks backstage at the Grammys- not worth it.” Queue the crowd laughter. “Not worth the flight to LA.” This led into the band kicking off the opening track to the album, “Synopsis For Latecomers.”
BOOK – which is both an album and a coffee table art book – received a Grammy nomination for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package. A 144-page full-color, cloth-bound hardcover book and full-length album was born through a series of brainstorms with longtime collaborator and graphic design legend Paul Sahre, when they decided to team up with Brooklyn street photographer Brian Karlsson.
A little later on, Linnell prefaced a song with a bit of a behind the scenes in the making of it, talking about a children’s book called Homer Price, where one of the stories is about making the largest ball of string. “John I’ve known you for over 50 years and I’ve never heard about this.”
“I’ve never brought it up before- and I might be making it up,” Linnell responded.
“There’s a discussion in the book: how do you begin wrapping string in a ball if you have nothing to wrap it around? THAT’S WHAT THIS SONG IS ABOUT.” Naturally this got an eruption from the crowd. “I’ve destroyed the mystery.”
Flansburgh retorted, “For all you people blogging out there, that’s another bit you can use.” Hey, that’s us, I thought.
“It’s like when they revealed who killed Laura Palmer. Now I stopped caring.” This led into the song, “We Want a Rock,” off of Flood.
The band performed two sets, and absolutely melted all the minds of their beloved followers with an epic rendition of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” at the end of the first set. The three magnificent horn players on stage each took turns at the end to display their God given gifts, simply slaughtering their respective brass in expert fashion. From sax, to trombone, to trumpet, it was a divine sonic experience.
TMBG are just as much pure entertainers as they are musicians. Their on stage banter drew constant smiles, and at any given moment when you scanned the crowd, there wasn’t a texter or bored soul to be found. They brought pure unadulterated joy to their legion of fans.
From 16-year-olds to 60-year-olds, They Might Be Giants brought generations together for one hell of a show.