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Concert Review: They Might Be Giants at The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA (November 13, 2009)

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Feeling the economic stimulus yet? They Might Be Giants wasted no one’s money at their Fillmore show in San Francisco last month. Containing quite a few moments which stunned the senses, it ended with not one, but two confetti finales.

John Flansburgh and John Linnell form the creative center of They Might Be Giants. Their musical style usually orbits around '60s rock and folk rock, then they warp to other musical genres, sometimes in the same song. They further nerdify it with odd lyrics that only make sense after listening to them at least a dozen times, maybe more. Since the early '90s they’ve had a backing band which currently features Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf, and Marty Beller.

Arriving late to the Fillmore, I found the dance floor a Black Forest of tall people. Rather than attempt to muscle my way to the front of the stage, I ran past the club’s famous bowl of free apples, and climbed the steep stairs to the balcony. Among the framed concert posters, I dug a crack between two behemoths so I could watch They Might Be Giants.

The sold-out show attracted a nerdier crowd than Dinosaur Jr. a week earlier. Nowhere was this more apparent than observing the cattle drive of dudes entering the restroom. Tonight’s in-style look was dressing like Will Wright, the creator of the PC game The Sims. Lots of guys sported mustaches, goatees, and glasses. A guy in the front row constantly pumping both fists in the air symbolized the enthusiastic but not chaotic atmosphere.

Around 10:00 pm, the band strode onto a stage decorated with black and white photos of a young girl. Linnell and Flansburgh looked just as energetic as they did when they were in their 20s. A true music class geek in a red t-shirt, Linnell played the keyboard, accordion, clarinet, and saxophone. Flansburgh, or the nerdy Brian Wilson as I call him, hopped about the stage and played his Fender Telecaster by swinging windmills with his arm.

The band spent the early part of the show testing tracks from their latest children’s album, Here Comes Science. The new single “Meet The Elements” sets the periodic table to music. Educational yes, but it sounds fun in a Weezer meets Sesame Street way. In an audience-friendly move, they didn’t try to push the new songs by holding all the hits until the end. I admit being a bit of a newbie when it comes to the band's career, so I worried when they played “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and “Particle Man” early on. However, catchiness was in the DNA of every tune they played. The band infected me with new favorite songs like the concert closer “They Might Be Giants” and the song “Letterbox,” both off of their breakthrough album Flood.

You know a band likes pulling off silly and unexpected things live when they browse the NASA archives for album art and the record cover ends up depicting a squid and whale wrestling in space. At one point, the group rolled a huge bass drum onstage. The drummer banged on it and all the hairs on my body tingled. I also regret forgetting to wear earplugs — once again. He continued assaulting his bass drum of death during the song that followed, “Whistling in the Dark.” In the middle of it, Linnell and Flansburgh gleefully yelled for everybody to stomp their feet. I experienced an added adrenaline rush standing in the hopefully sturdy balcony.

After bringing out the big drums, they carted out a very small electronic drum kit with a low chair. Although it looked goofy having the drummer sit almost on the ground, the most off-kilter moment was—the sock puppet show. Yes, that’s right, Linnell and Flansburgh donned macramé socks with buttons for eyes. As a video camera recorded and projected their woolen incarnations on a big screen, they sang They Might Be Giants songs while miming the words with the puppets.

Unfortunately, I missed the opening act, Guggenheim Grotto. As for They Might Be Giants, they don’t seem the least bit weary. After 25 years they show up happy to entertain and still attract a legion of nerd rockers.

They Might Be Giants’ “Meet The Elements” Video

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