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  • Almost Contagious -12.04
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    [ They Might Be Giants ]

    Johnson Athletic Center- MIT Cambridge, Mass 04.28.00

    I’ve seen this They Might Be Giants band on several occasions in the past, and after the last time I saw them, in Manhattan at the Bowery Ballroom, I decided that it was unnecessary to ever see this band again. Don’t get me wrong, this band is a great band. Their songs are catchy and poppy yet interesting and eccentric and unique. Their touring band is great; they’re constantly re-interpreting their material and improvising, so old songs are always different and exciting from show to show.

    The reason I decided not to see them was because the collective of They Might Be Giants fans almost always manage to piss me off. They do very strange things that I guess I’d attribute to ignorance. One, there’s always someone pushing to get in front of you, even if you’ve showed up when the doors opened and they’ve just walked in during the first song of the set. Second, many of them are a bunch of rude assholes with strangely lame musical tastes. I don’t mean to insult everyone who likes the band, but when you go to a show and enough people are boo-ing the opening band that it’s fairly loud compared to the music, generalizations like this are validated. Their choice of artists they boo is extremely perplexing to me. Artists not boo-ed by They Might Be Giants fans: Michael Shelly and Freedy Johnston - These guys play pretty damn conventional, non-offensive, low-energy “adult rock”. Artist that have been boo-ed by They Might Be Giants fans include: Brian Dewan and The Magnetic Fields. Mr. Dewan plays electric zither and sings songs about alien visits and office hazards, and the Magnetic Fields grace the mellow, lovely and gloomy edge of the pop spectrum. My confusion comes from the fact that a TMBG fan would boo people doing something different and interesting, and be ambiguous or supportive of the rock norm. You’d think people who liked TMBG would appreciate the quirky and different. At the show where the Magnetic Fields opened for TMBG at the Roseland in Manhattan, enough people were yelling that Stephin Merritt addressed the audience with “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you when you’re all yelling at once.” I posed the question on a TMBG message board once as to why these idiots do this, and someone answered “I get there early to get a space up front” but I don’t see how yelling at the opening acts are going to make them go away any faster…

    ANYWAY, what I’m here to write about is the show on April 28th! This show was part of the MIT Spring Weekend activities, and two types of tickets were sold: $7 tickets for MIT-affiliated folks, and $12 tickets for kids from other colleges. There were two separate lines for each category of audience member; the non-MIT line was much longer. Also, there was a sign telling attendees what sorts of items would not be allowed inside: Weapons, including Pen Knives, Swiss Army Knives, etc. To back up this rules, they had airport-style metal detectors. I wonder who’s going to go to a They Might Be Giants show to stab someone. Once inside, there were an awful lot of police and security. I put my sweatshirt down on a folding table at one point, and campus police guys picked it up, presumably checking for weapons, on two occasions.

    The opening band was Reel Big Fish. I don’t understand what their name means. It’s nice that enough people still enjoy ska and le ska-core to enable this 6 piece band to tour. And it’s unarguable that this sort of music is fun and dance-y. They do it well and had a good time doing it. They had a song called “Rock and Roll is Bitchin’,” so they totally deserve props for that.

    They Might Be Giants are a great live band. They’re very lucky in that the type of music they play will enable them to age gracefully. They seem so normal and genuinely pleasant and funny and unpretentious on stage. Their set took material from pretty much every album except for the self-titled first one. They even played “Cowtown” from Lincoln, which is my dad’s favorite TMBG’s song. The drummer didn’t really begin to cook until more than halfway through their songs, around the part between “The Guitar” and “No one knows my plas” where they did the “Everybody conga.” duh-duh-duh-duh duh! “We’re not fucking kidding.” duh-duh-duh-duh duh! “People in the bleachers conga.” duh-duh-duh-duh duh… etc. The drummer was fine, he just didn’t have energy until around then. It’s kind of an unquantifiable quality, how there are drummers who aren’t very skilled but have so much energy that they’re a million times better than a proficient schooled drummer who does everything correctly and perfectly, yet is tainted by the absence of that something.

    So it was a fun show. The fans didn’t piss me off so much this time (except for when I got an elbow to my back from some uncoordinated moshers behind me, pogo-ing to the theme song from “Malcolm in the Middle.” Ow.) It was very nice when John Flansburgh (the guitar guy) was thanking everyone at the end, and thanked the security guys “… because it’s comforting to have 80 guys in between me and you. There are so many of them, and so few of you, it’s almost, oppressive, yet gentle and kind.”

    But the thing I wanted to mention, the outstanding event of the evening: After the band had played their “last song” and the audience was clapping for the obligatory rock encore, I looked around the gym. Some people were holding up lighters. However, these people were outnumbered by folks holding up their back- lit-screen Palm Pilot personal digital organizers. And that’s when I knew I was at MIT.

    Written By: Ernie K.