Review: They Might Be Giants create nerd nirvana at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
Ever wonder if nerds* party (outside of any setting with the suffix -Con)? Well, they do.
Gather every socially-stigmatized weirdo you know — 75 percent of the four-eyes, the IT professionals, Debbie from accounting, that 70-year-old white man you saw donning a dashiki in the grocery store, and what you think 15-year-olds from the IB program look like — and you have the crowd at the Ritz Ybor on Tuesday for They Might be Giants. I’m not kidding. (Oh, and throw in about 70 plaid shirts.)
I made an effort to get there early, and surprisingly, so did everyone else. What punctual fans TMBG have — or maybe they packed in early for opener Jonathan Coulton. The former computer programmer fronted a good old-fashioned three-piece rock band that sang about depressed vampires, nemeses and zombies. The set list included popular songs Code Monkey (the theme to G4’s Code Monkeys) and Still Alive (from the video game Portal).
Checklist for the main act: A sense of humor, sock puppets, a Meg Ryan printout, mounted video camera, audience participation, John Flansburgh, John Linnell and a 30-year career.
Flansburgh started the show out saying something like: “Ybor, the rock show from the graveyard ... the rock show hand-rolled,” in the voice of Igor. And so began two hours of peculiar showmanship filled with comical banter and audience antics. Flansburgh spent most of his time roaming the stage while Linnell took posts with the keyboard, baritone saxophone and accordion. Lead guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller all took turns at the keyboard, too.
Looking at them, it’s apparent that they’re simple guys who know how to amuse an audience (and themselves) with cleverly catchy tunes. And by simple, I do not mean boring. Who else would split the crowd in half with a flashlight and have them battle-chant either “People!” or “Apes!” in the song Battle For Planet of the Apes? Or play an interlude of Ozzy’s Crazy Train broken up with sock puppet dialogue, fake advertisements and Meg Ryan puppet appearances? Or stop to tell audience members that they were freaking the band out by having photos of the band tapes to their faces? And have such an esoteric fan base that came in puppet costumes, bearing photos of Abraham Lincoln?
As for the music, it was centered around the 1988 sophomore album Lincoln, and featured at least 12 songs, including Purple Toupee, Ana Ng, Cowtown, Shoehorn With Teeth, They’ll Need a Crane and Santa’s Beard. Tracks from their latest “adult” album, Join Us, included Can’t Keep Johnny Down, Cloisonné and When Will You Die. Other crowd-pleasers were Birdhouse In Your Soul, Mesopotamians and Marty Beller Mask. Two encores prompted a conga line and jump-up-and-down enthusiasm from the day-job introverts. It was like a segment from Nerds Gone Wild. If the music ever lulled, the battle of “People!” vs. “Apes!” ensued. The show finished with Doctor Worm and Istanbul (Not Constantinople), where Flansburgh literally shredded his guitar strings.
Other notable moments: The band marveling at the turnout for a Tuesday night, saying, “Swear words cannot describe how excited we are about this Tuesday night.” Upon plugging the vinyl in the merch booth, TMBG said vinyl records would be the only thing that would play after the apocalypse. Miller and Weinkauf handed out free decals to fans after the lights went on.
TMBG is a “fun”-ky brand of folk with short, succinct melodies that surely even Weird Al admires, but they best describe themselves and their fans in the encore song How Can I Sing Like A Girl? “I want to raise my freak flag / Higher and higher and / I want to raise my freak flag/ And never be alone / Never be alone.”
— Stephanie Bolling, tbt*
* I am one-third nerd.