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- Review by Cortney
Fan Recaps and Comments:
- A breathtaking, glass-and-wood-encased, self-playing Wurlitzer band organ opened the show with a light-stepping yet complex melody called "Illinois." Then the band appeared. "We're the Statesmen," announced John Linnell, a/k/a one-half of They Might Be Giants. "We only play songs named after states." This was Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom, where Linnell was promoting STATE SONGS, his first major non-Giants release—not teaching social studies. "I don't like U, I don't like Utah...," "Iowa is a witch...," "We must eat Michigan's brain...," the would-be anthems proclaimed. Linnell plans to eventually cover all 50 states.
- The band organ was not an easy instrument to track down. Nor would many consider it search-worthy: Its paper rolls require painstaking prepunching with an exacto knife, and there's no margin for error. The Statesmen played along with it flawlessly, with delightful results—like having a merry-go-round in the band. The Wurlitzer's shiny pipes bounced happily up and down with the audience. While Linnell switched between synthesizer and accordion, his Statesmen rotated percussive and backup vocal duties. When the organ sat out, a car alarm or Dustbuster took its place, giving each song a distinctive flavor, although not necessarily one related to how the states might view themselves. Saturday's hour-long set offered fans a distilled insight into Linnell's contributions to They Might Be Giants—plus a few stark departures, like a Springsteen cover ("Nebraska") and the hysterical skinhead-rock "California," in which Governor Jerry Brown (onetime 1-800-presidential candidate) chants, "California über alles."
- Linnell's brilliance lies in songs that are both well-crafted and spontaneous. He can experiment without sacrificing the loops and rhythms that implant a song in a subconscious. Demographic research? "A little bit, for the liner notes [on each state]," he told me, then admitted that he had some fun with those too.