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Fan Recaps and Comments:

Dr Raygun: My friend Jill and I teamed up to organise a little road trip to see both this and the Electric Ballroom gig and indulge ourselves in some unadulterated Giantsy goodness for two whole days. I left Brighton (on the UK's beautiful south coast) on an early train, changing at King's Cross where I was mildly surprised to see about three dozen Asian tourists wearing Griffindor scarves and waving wands queuing up to take selfies at Platform 9 3/4. I met Jill and my sister (who works in the Cambridge Science Park) for a very filling veggie lunch which was to tide us over for the rest of the day. Most of the hotels in Cambridge seem to have TERRIBLE trip advisor ratings but I had found a very nice one and not too over-priced which had a lovely view of the Cam. Our room was pre-inhabited by a huge spider which roused in us a chorus of the song. We had made a quick check in and were given fresh cookies; I was briefly tempted by the idea of putting a wig on and standing on my bed to eat it but decided against it as we then needed to get a shifty on and ordered a taxi to the venue.

We arrived at the venue around 4:30pm and noted that the queue was consisted of precisely no people. It was freezing. I was aware that this would be the case as I used to do a lot of gigs in Cambridge when I was younger and had formulated Hayward's First Law, namely: “It is ALWAYS colder in Cambridge than you think it is going to be”. In fact the wind whips across from Russia's Ural mountains and there is nothing in the way to stop it as, as Noel Coward observed, Norfolk is very flat. We bought cups of tea in the Travelodge opposite and watched the cyclists coming and going until we spotted some folk forming a proto-queue which we took as our cue to don our garb and scamper into positions 6 and 7.

The queueing experience should have given us a sense of what the audience was going to be like at the actual gig; Jill and I gossiped away excitedly (it was her first full band TMBG gig despite being a fan since 1989) and absolutely no-one joined in our chat or introduced themselves, preferring to play Fruit Ninja or otherwise socially mediating on their smart phones — most unlike my previous queuing experience in Brooklyn last year. We easily achieved out goal of first row spots right behind Linnell's clarinet rack and in full view of the glory of Marty's drum kit. I was spotted by Gerwin Cramer who had made the trip over from Holland specially to see his first TMBG gig saying — somewhat morbidly — too many great musicians had died this year and he didn't want to miss the chance to see TMBG before it was too late. He knew me from somewhere (perhaps Beaky McStabby the Glasgow crow or the Cambridge Fagpie) and later demanded selfies with myself and Jill. The crowd slowly filled the hall until someone bumped me from behind and I turned to give a piece of my mind to the culprit who in fact was Phill Jupitus, a well known UK comedian and artist who is also a good chum of a good chum of mine who I had met previously when we played the same gig.

Finally (!) the band arrived onstage wrapped up in fleeces and jackets; Linnell later explained that they didn't want to leave the stage at all as it was bitterly cold out the back — surely proof (if it was needed) of the veracity of Hayward's First Law. It seemed to me that the show got off to a little bit of a slow start despite including what I thought were well-known and well-appreciated songs such as Can't Keep Johnny Down, They Might Be Giants, and Statue Got Me High but as the evening progressed it felt like most of the audience only knew, and only wanted to hear, songs from Flood. Music Jail, Why Does the Sun Shine, Alphabet of Nations, Authenticity Trip and Lesbian Bar in particular seemed to baffle the crowd. Linnell politely accused us of being "emotionally reserved" and Flans made a cutting allusion to a scene in 'Parks and Recreation' where a couple are bitterly splitting up and the woman storms out uttering the curse to her ex, "May you go to see you favourite band and the only play their new material!" However our little group, supported by Phill's infectious and rousing guffawing, rocked away and had the best time. I felt the second half of the set (from Rhythm Section Want Ad) was more even and went over better with the sea of grey heads; personal highlights included Trouble Awful Devil Evil (probably, along with Daylight, my favourite song from the potential Phone Power repertoire) MISLIH, Memo To Human Resources and Damn Good Times.

Older included a extended phone call from Flans claiming to be the band's manager trapped in the boot (sorry - trunk) of a car, Linnell responding with great timing and comic ability. Other banter included Flans trying to gee-up the audience and a short lecture on the contrasting qualities of the different clarinets, asserting that Linnell’s are far superior due to the fact that, like a good quality chocolate Easter Bunny, Linnell’s are solid, not hollow like the inferior ones with which we may be familiar. As an intro to Bills Bills Bills we were treated to a long description of a proposed career re-vitalising hotel and theme-park project involving a rotating centrifugal performance stage which would pin the audience to the walls while they were forced to listen to TMBG’s Destiny's Child covers. Obviously they would only need one of these songs as the victims, sorry, guests, would feel so sick after three minutes they would have to leave.

The human theremin didn't particularly catch the audience's imagination despite Flans’ appeal to both the shy guys and the sexy guys to participate but Robot Parade itself really rocked, Flans getting very excited with his boom-shaka-lakas and jumping around more that I have seen in years. The evening was rounded off with an extended version of Istanbul opened by a stunning Dan Miller acoustic solo and concluded with several false endings.

I was thrilled to be handed Danny Weinkauf’s set list by the man himself and delighted that he also signed my MHoW poster from the Flood show last March. He offered to get Dan Miller from backstage to sign it too and as I had previously obtained signatures from the Johns and Marty at the Rough Trade East in-store last July I was really chuffed to complete the set. Jill was given a signed stick by Marty and I had previously raided the merchandise stall for a new hoodie (to replace my very faded Nanobots one from the last UK tour), a bottle opener and the blue and yellow version of Henreike’s THEY t-shirt, so taking our swag we made our way back to the hotel for a nightcap and excited debrief of the gig. On examining the set list we felt that the last-minute substitution of Dead for James K. Polk may possibly have been an acknowledgement of the audience mood. There seemed to be some technical issues affecting the band also: both Johns appeared to be having trouble with their monitors, Marty was fiddling with cymbal placement and Linnell’s bass clarinet looked like it had a sticky octave key which was bothering him at one point. The sound wasn’t great for us as the vocals were a bit lost in the mix but naturally we took the full force of both Marty’s superb drumming and the delicious bass clarinet. Despite these minor points it was a really wonderful gig to attend mainly due to Flans’ unbounded enthusiasm and the extended and surreal banter which was of the highest quality; the performances of Robot Parade and Istanbul were amongst the best I have heard. Finally retiring to bed I found it difficult to sleep due to the excitement of knowing we would be doing this all over again the next day.

[To be continued!]

GerwinK: This was my first show ever. I had been flying to the UK from Amsterdam with my brother the very same day. It was just a perfect opportunity to see They in what I think is an interesting moment in their career, and knew there might not be many if any future opportunities for me. My original plan was to get tickets for the Electric Ballroom gig but since I had to compromise with my brother, who would not be going to the show and wanted to see Cambridge, so I bought a ticket for the Cambridge Junction show. A small que had already formed at the entrance when I arrived at the venue around 7:15 pm (doors didn't open until 7:30) and the people lining up behind me were for 90% ' mom and dad and kid' , which for some reason I had not anticipated. It was a thrill to finally enter the venue and see the setup on the stage. Among the people standing near the front of the stage was a red-haired lady. I realized it could only be wikian Dr. Raygun, of which I had seen pictures and the red hair is an easy thing to remember. She was there with a friend and I was glad to have found some people to talk to pass the next 40 minutes before the show. Phill Jupitus at one point popped up right behind us; I never realized was a TMBG fan.

It was startling to see the band come out and have them before me so closely! Something I noticed right away was just how close Linnell had to lean towards his setlist in order to read it (nearly pressing his face against it), which made me realize that each time he would be looking in my direction, I would appear to him as a greyish blur. They started with Johnny and They Might Be Giants and both songs were met with rhapsodic applause. Linnell told everybody that they would be playing a long set because " is so [effing] cold outside." Hearing him swear was strangely pleasing for some reason. He seemed to be in a great mood.

Right next came Music Jail which was met with a perplexingly long gap of silence, so Flansburgh explained that the audience did in fact have the responsibility to provide the band with the indispensable oxygen that is the audience's expression of approval. "It's your way of letting us know that what we are doing up here makes sense." Next came Why Does The Sun Shine?. Flans had actually written down the 'elements' he conjured up for the 'nuclear reactions between...' on his setlist, which goes to show how serious he is about that part of the song. After Answer came a whole bunch of staple classics which was an absolute treat! Among these was Statue, and me and Dr. Raygun instinctively imitated the riffs in the chorus (And though I once preferred a human being's company- DU DU DU DU DU DU DU).

Rhythm Section Want Ad followed by Your Racist Friend managed to even get the most emotionally reserved members of the crowd moving, brief as it might have been. Bills, Bills, Bills' was introduced with the whole 'Destiny's Child's Child' shtick. At one point during the song Flans kneeled down right in front of me, looking directly into my eyes as he wailed out "Can you pay my bills?".

When they were about to start Cloisonné, Linnell noticed he forgot the strap of his bass clarinet. "You tell them something about clarinets" he told Flansburgh as he rushed off to get the strap. It's a good thing that Linnell can rely on Flan's enthusiasm for improv on such occasions. Ironically, Flans went on with his banter much longer than the rest of the band had hoped for, so Linnell's request had turned against him a bit.

After Cloisonné, Dan and Dan went backstage to "smoke meth". The Johns performed I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar with just Marty backing them, which was pretty reminiscent to their drum machine days in a way.

Then came Older which included the phony call bit which I learned about later, so it was completely new to me. Linnell had a pretty long-winded 'phone call' with the band's 'manager', who claimed he was calling from the trunk of a car. Flans did his usual improvising and Linnell actually played along quite brilliantly. I think it lasted nearly 5 minutes and although I don't have much of a recollection of it, it actually was pretty funny. I must say that there generally was a lot of banter going on and could lead one to suspect Flans was actually trying out material for some kind of solo, spoken-word/comedy tour he is planning to do at some point in time. I'm not sure if he felt encouraged to pursue that after this gig, but as far as banter goes most of it was actually very good and of course very surrealistic. Phil Jupitus' bellowing laughter helped alot.

Birdhouse was without a doubt a highlight in terms of audience reaction. It sure sounded to me like everyone in that room was echoing the chorus during the "And while your at it..." part and the ground was shaking from all the jumping going on. Trouble Awful Devil Evil and Memo most pleasantly surprised me. I couldn't be happier when they played I Love You For Psychological Reasons, one of my top Dial-A-Song favorites! I in fact expressed my hope for them playing the song before the show. I noticed Linnell sang "Brain in a car in a jar in reverse..." and I'm still not sure if that is something he did purposely or not. He did sheepishly grin as he sang it, but that could mean anything.

And then there was Dead for the second encore! For some reason I was hoping for Dead when they came back on a second time and then they went ahead and did it. Rarely do I have such a streak of luck. During Dan's acoustic shredding moment before Istanbul, Linnell briefly became fascinated with the ceiling of the venue, gazing up at the lights with his jaw dropped, long enough for me and Dr. Raygun to notice and imitate his face and try to see what exactly there was to behold. It remains a mystery.

The show sure left me wanting more, and I knew there was going to be another show in London while I was boarding the plane back to Amsterdam. I hope their next UK visit will be soon.


Thanks for filling in the gaps where I had forgotten stuff, Gerwin! It was lovely to meet you and a really special gig to attend. Take care and see you in 2018 I hope. Dr Raygun