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- Space Krickets
- She Thinks She's Edith Head
- The Ballad Of Timothy McSweeney
- Free Ride
- Au Contraire
- Free Ride
- Up Where We Belong
- We Built This City
- Stairway To Heaven
- Free Ride
- Dan Miller solo
- Up Where We Belong
- Victorious Intro
- Clap Your Hands
- Birdhouse In Your Soul
- John Lee Supertaster
- Bed Bed Bed
- Doctor Worm
- The Shitty, Shitty Blues
- She's Actual Size
- Why Does The Sun Shine?
- Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
They Might Be Giants
— with Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players opening —
Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN
October 24, 2002
Fan Recaps and Comments:
Review by Adam Kintopf:
I was very curious to see what this crowd would be like. The venue was downtown St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater, best known as the home of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion." It's a small proscenium theater with two balconies (frankly it looks like it's seen better days), and as the event was co-sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio I half-expected to see an audience made up of tweedy middle-aged literary types. And of course there were a couple of those, but by and large the crowd was made up of very young TMBGersboys with bad haircuts, sensitive-looking girls, everyone in glasses.
The opening act was the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, and they put on a wild, surprising, hilarious show. Mr. Trachtenburg explained that the family travels around buying up old people's slide collections after they die, and then composing rock-song soundtracks to the images. In performance, his wife works the slide projector, while he plays the electric organ and their eight-year-old daughter plays the drums. They did several songs, including a six-number "rock opera" based on a 1977 McDonald's corporate marketing presentation. Their squeaky, wobbly singing voices weren't much to speak of, but the overall effect was amazing: abstract, ironic, even moving. It reminded me of the witty Karl Haendel photos from McSweeney's #6, and of vintage TMBG at their hyperweirdestall in all, a very fine start for the evening. (Mr. Trachtenburg announced that they're going to be on Conan O'Brien on November 5thcheck them out!)
Then TMBG came out and did the high-voice version of "Edith Head," followed by the McSweeney's ballad. The rest of McSweeney's section ran like an old-fashioned variety show, with Dave Eggers and John Flansburgh as MCs. (Flans didn't look that greathe's getting VERY roly-poly, and he's grown a weaselly little almost-there mustachebut he was as charming and engaging as ever.) The first reader was salon.com cartoonist Keith Knight, who showed some slides of his comic strips. The cartoons were biting without being mean, and Knight's personality was pleasant and self-deprecating. (For example, he kept joking about stupidly having lost his wedding ring backstage.) After he had finished, TMBG sang a new John Linnell song (new to me, anyway) called "Au Contraire," which was funI thought it sounded a little like "Dance Ten, Looks Three (Tits and Ass)" from "A Chorus Line."
Then Eggers read from his new novel, "You Shall Know Our Velocity." The section he read was typical of his work: the prose was finely-wrought, nostalgic, meandering, and a little self-indulgent. He struck me as kind of a slick poseur up there at the lectern, hunched reverently over his work, and reading in an affected Christian-Slater-y drawl; still, it seemed to go over well with the audience. The passage was punctuated with references to eighties hits, and John and John came out and sang some snatches from "Up Where We Belong," "We Built This City," and "True" (with Flansy doing a passable Joe Cocker in the first song, and a better-than-passable Tony Hadley in the last). John Linnell wore his big square glasses during this section of the show. After Eggers finished, they did "Bangs."
Then Eddy Joe Cotton came out and did an endless, mumbling performance-art piece (with mellow accompaniment by Dan Miller) about riding the rails with the hobos. He finished off by singing roughly seventeen verses of "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." My girlfriend accurately described it as the lowlight of the evening.
After a reprise of "Up Where We Belong" (with the new Flansburgh lyrics, "With the unicorn's tears, and the eagle's eyes"), there was a long intermission. After this, TMBG came back and did a short and fairly unimaginative set. Flansburgh was wild and funny, and Linnell looked supremely bored throughout (though he did come to life during the encore to tell a funny story, complete with dead-on impression, about what Garrison Keillor kept locked in his private refrigerator downstairs). Not bad, but not many surprises either. (Although I should mention that Dan Miller seemed to be having more fun during "James K. Polk" than he usually does.) All in all it was a fun show, with the surprise highlight being the opener, for once.
Review by madame apathy:
I have just come back from the most wonderful evening of readings and glorious music, I have ever experienced. My favorite band, They Might Be Giants, added with my favorite journal, McSweeney's, never seemed so beautiful. The most rewarding part was meeting the talented authors. I will come back to that later, but only because I want to be able to elaborate in order. But I must say, I think this has to be one of my favorite TMBG concerts. Seeing Dave Eggers read his material was amazing. He savored each word and in such an intimate tone his words would often make him hilarious.
The evening began with The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. Don't let the name fool you. But actually, it is what it sounds like. A thorough description is needed. An actual family, Jason, the father on piano, Rachel, the 9-year-old daughter on drums and Tina, the mother working the slides, they are a rock band with a twist. Watching Jason and Rachel sing to their vintage slide collection (all found at estate and yard sales, thrift stores and various sources that remain nameless)while Tina changed them, was so highly amusing and entertaining mainly due to the fact that they were singing ABOUT the slides. For every picture that came up, the perfect lyric matched just right. An example would be a picture of a woman with her arms open or someone obviously showing off or posing, was accompanied by the song "Look at Me!" This is one creative family. Perhaps you had to be there, but it amused me.
Then there was a short break and then on came They Might Be Giants, including the Band of Dans, to introduce the McSweeney's writers! They started with Edith Head, a rocking piece that had Flansburgh get really quiet near the end! Then they went right into the Ballad for Timothy McSweeney, and by this point, I knew this was going to love this evening. Because then, Eggers came out and I heard him talk for the first time, an amazing experience. He and Flans came out and read a light-hearted introduction. I say read and not gave, because poor Eggers totally looked like he was stumbling when Flans flew in with his strong personality and spoke with his smooth outgoing voice, "Here, Dave, let me read it!" which was still funny to everyone including Eggers. Hey, I'd probably do the same if I were up there with Flans. He must be intimidating! Anyways, they introduced Keith Knight who read his comic strip, the K Chronicles and was accompanied by his art on the screen, showing his sharp sense of humor in politics and morals in the US. One was a spoof off Tickle Me Elmo and another played off of how one commercial used Sept. 11 to keep kids off drugs. That led into an amusing trail of "CHANGE THE TOILET PAPER-OR THE TERRORISTS WIN" and "EVERY TIME YOU DON'T TAKE OUT THE TRASH-GOD KILLS ANOTHER KITTEN". His humor is certainly offbeat, yet still hits the mark.
Then, a rumor I had hoped was true, came true! TMBG came out after Knight and played, the song with a special meaning to me, Au Contraire! I'm not sure what others thought, but I was so happy they played it. It ended with Right On! Said by both Johns and recorded weird voices. So, then Eggers came on and read from You Shall Know Our Velocity. I loved how he read, but I also noticed how he made it sound rather.sexual. Maybe it was just me, but the way he read it so slow and deliberate, sounded like he was seducing the audience. Which worked rather well. If he speaks French, he would probably sound perfect the way he his words were formed. Perhaps it was the part out of the book that he was reading. It was about the two main characters, Will and Hand, reminiscing about Champagne Snowball, the experience that amplifies life during Junior High. This was hilarious, despite the fact that the time era was different because awkward teenage puberty is timeless. You could go back to the stone age and laugh as a Neanderthal teenager attempts his first try at kissing, which would look the same as today's young men. Egger's words were descriptive and had amazing imagery that worked so well and yet still maintained the grandiosity of the humor overall. It was cute too when he would fudge up some words, but he kept the flow pretty well. I love his writing, and totally could relate to what he wrote, but never said that to him, because I'm sure it's said quite enough to him. I think it's just something everyone can relate to, feeling completely awkward during Junior High, of course, at my dances, we didn't have any kind of snowball thing. Instead, we got slow songs inserted, like, every four songs. And during that time, I would chat w/friends, get something to drink or laugh at a friend who would be dancing with a guy we hated. I only did slow dance a few times, but mostly, I used the whole dance as a way to get out my frustration and angst, eating up every fast dancing song and not giving a shit that I looked like an idiot. So, while Eggers read about dancing to certain songs, the two Johns would come out on stage and play at the appropriate time with "We Built This City", a Joe Cocker song "Where We Belong"?, and some other 80'sish song. Not to mention Dan Miller playing Stairway. This added to the humor perfectly. I cannot find the words to describe them but trust me, good times.
So Eggers finished and next, TMBG + Dans, came out and played Bangs, a song I love hearing live, giving me the feeling I get when I hear the first song of Mink Car; I guess it's anticipation. Then came on Eddie Joe Cotton, who crawled onstage for his reading. Dan Miller sat far left (or is it right for theater folk?), on the side, just to add a bit of guitar. Sounds of wind, clinks and clangs, and Miller's guitar, altered to sound really old and distant, backed up Cotton's reading. The very rustic and down to earth tone and feel he gave through his words were authentic. He read from his book, about being a hobo and it was incredible. He wore two boxing gloves while he read into the microphone. And at certain points he would switch to another microphone that had a very filtered sound, like he was talking into a tin can. Sorry my knowledge on sound terms are limited. I had talked to him a bit after the show and he told me that he wanted to try to write in a way that a hobo would put it. It was quite poetic and theatrical. I enjoyed it.
And so, after he finished, they had intermission before tmbg went on and they played that swing music they usually do. Then, with a "Why Not Let Go?" intro, they began with Clap Your Hands. It was the only time in the whole show I felt very, very awkward because we all were sitting in our seats. Imagine trying to "jump in the air" while still sitting down and trying to not look like the only one. Finally Flansburgh encouraged one and all to stand up and dance in the aisles, and got most of the balcony people to run down to the main floor and join in. So we stood up and danced to Birdhouse. I felt a little awkward still, since the floor was slanted and I felt quite alone, but others were surrounding me, covering up any embarrassing dancing that I may have exhibited. My memory is poor, but I am almost certain they played John Lee Supertaster next. Flansburgh said something about how he was 42 now and he wrote that at 39. Next they played Bed, a song I remember among many others being sung by two little kids with loud voices at the central park show. It was cute, so when I heard Bed live again I think of high, off note kiddies' voices singing with John Linnell. That had the confetti cannon with "and now to bed directly I GOOOO!"
Now, I am not as sure, but they played Dr. Worm next, with Linnell on accordion, telling the audience the song was about their drummer friend who planned on making it big. After that, was Drink!(I think) with Flansburgh babbling on and saying this is in the sad drink chord. Next came the shitty, shitty blues only to indicate She's Actual Size. John Linnell is awesome on sax and especially that Dan Hickey is one of the best drummers ever! That may be known, but during his drum solo, I noticed how expressive he really is, always giving a funny little tough look while playing. Now that I blabbed on about Hickey, I think Weinkauf is a great bassist, and man, he gyrates like no one else! Both him and Flansburgh seem to be the most active and really are all over the place. Actual ended with Flans saying "Dan. Dan. John. Audience. Dan. John. Dan." The next song was Why Does the Sun Shine, with Flansburgh saying something about how this song is educational but has had some parts changed and to see what are the real facts and what are not. It, of course, was the copper wire, aluminum wire, etc. and Estrogen, Estrogen, Estrogen. WDTSS is one of my favorites to hear live, and afterwards Flans joked about how scary it was that college guys still don't know what estrogen is. Ok, so, Dr. Worm through WDTSS may or may not be out of order, but just assume I'm right. Their last song was Istanbul, with a heavy intro/solo by Mr. Dan Miller on acoustic guitar.
They did only one encore, which still rocked because of the story. They came back out, saying their next song was about food. It was, in fact, Fingertips, which has little to do with food, but that's when Linnell piped up. "I have a story I'd like to tell about food. I had to get my dinner from this place early because it was going to close later tonight, so I had to refrigerate it here at the Fitzgerald. For some reason, there's a lock on the fridge and when I went to get my dinner, it was locked. So I had to get someone to come and open it up and I thought", at this point, and if you don't know Garrison Keillor, his voice sounds like an older man who speaks soft, a bit slow, but deliberate, perfect for telling long, boring stories of Minnesota. So, at this point, Linnell starts talking like Garrison Keillor! I nearly fell down laughing because he was pretty damn accurate too! So he continued, "and I thought, just- JUST what does, Garrison Keillor have in his refrigerator that would need a lock? Perhaps some sort of chemical or something? So as they opened the door I looked inside and saw a huge bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups" saying reese's peanut butter cups very slowly, so we all could laugh our asses off that Keillor was such a pansy about his candy. Off the subject, but my 9th grade English teacher dated Keillor and was invited to one of his many weddings. Anyways, TMBG went on to play Fingertips, which I loved to death. I sang every word, and swayed and danced! It was a perfect, absolutely perfect song for an encore and I was so happy that it could have ended there! But they actually ended with James K. Polk! It was a delight to hear the song about the prudish president again.
So after the entire ordeal, I went out and got in line to get Egger's autograph. It was right by the door and it took forever, but while I waited, Flansburgh was making his way towards the outer entrance to sign autographs while folks left. He made his way right towards me, and I was trying to get out of his way but it seemed like he was going to head right towards me, and so when I saw him shake some dude's hand, I stuck out my hand, as he passed. I just sort of laughed, because I got that same silly feeling I had the first time I had met him. But it didn't really matter to me that much because I was too anxious to get Egger's autograph and talk with Eddy Joe Cotton. Also, as I waited in line I spoke with Jason Trachtenburg, who seemed genuinely friendly and happy to be in Minnesota. Some of the other folks around me chatted with him too, talking about how the weather was milder in Seattle and other things. So I got Egger's autograph, a weird drawing of half a dog with an eye coming out, and then, afterwards I talked with Eddy Joe Cotton about his book. It was a great evening, and I am so glad I went. I really, really want to see the Trachtenburg family again, especially with the song "Look at Me" with all the slides and Rachel singing because the CD doesn't have it.
Glad I was able to go and I hope whoever else out there still has the chance to see McSweeneys vs TMBG, goes too!