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Fan Recaps and Comments:


This show was at a cute little venue in Pawling, NY, at a very cute little venue owned (amusingly randomly to me) by Daryl Hall of "and Oates" fame. I always appreciate the intimacy of seeing TMBG in small spaces, and it doesn't happen too frequently. For this show less than a week after Christmas, there was still a wreath on the door for some festive feeling.

They opened with the completely rocking "The Communists Have the Music," followed immediately by the also completely rocking "Twisting."

Next came "Why Does the Sun Shine?" Flans fucked up by starting to sing immediately rather than waiting for the brief musical intro, oops. During the spoken parts, John was again doing his difficult to describe but extremely funny weird, slow-and-low-voiced character. After informing us that the sun is so hot everything on it is a gas, he further informed us that he had a hangnail. After "The sun is large" (oddly, he sang for that one, rather than Flans doing it like the normal vocal breakdown of the song), we learned the usual info that a million earths would fit inside the sun if it were hollow, however, "This is purely hypothetical. This would never actually happen." Also, apparently the sun looks so small because it is about 93 miles away. Furthermore, the sun is a "huge smashing thing," and "if the heat and light of the sun were hollow, I would fit inside."

Afterwards, John asked us how we were doing, then demanded two more times to hear how we were really really doing, receiving, of course, excited cheers in response each time.

Next came a couple of Flood regulars, "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and then "Particle Man." Unusually, there was no modified cover in the bridge of the latter, just a slowed-down section with normal lyrics and a musical background that reminded me a bit of another staple Flood selection, "Istanbul."

After "The Famous Polka," Flans thanked us for coming "all the way out to Pawling, New York, a place...on the map for us!" (It did require a rather lengthy commuter train ride from the city for me to get there, going through places I'd never been and mostly had never heard of).

Then he asked John how his holiday was.

JL: It was good. I was over on the other side of the Atlantic, so I'm...I'm gonna be slightly...saying things that I don't mean, cos I'm still on European time.

JF: Perhaps in a foreign language.

JL: Maybe in a foreign language. Scottish. Could happen. *pause* I'm sorry, how was your Christmas? Or--your holiday. We're part of the war on Christmas--I keep forgetting. How was your holiday?

JF: My Kwanzaa was fantastic, John.

Then he said he was in LA "hanging out with some heavy-hitting entertainment people, y'know, working on deals." "In the Kwanzaa spirit," John added.

Then Flans said, "As someone said on social media, 2018 was one of the longest decades of all time, so it's exciting to be so close to the end...of 2018." Then John said, ominously, "I thought you meant something more broadly. It's exciting to be close to the end, as well." This was a stellar example of the sort of morbid sense of humor that makes me adore him so.

Flans then reminded us that if we were videoing the show we'd already broken an FBI law, but if you do, "please make sure that everyone else is videoing as well. It's only fair for the person standing behind you that they capture your screen in their screen." He then said he wanted it to be like the effect in "that Orson Welles movie with the mirrors." John offered that the movie he was thinking of was The Lady from Shanghai which Flans then admitted he hasn't seen (I did based on this banter and the scene in question--the movie in general really--is excellent). John then told us that when we got the video home we would find the FBI warning with it, and Flans encouraged us to be sure to rewind it.

Next they played "I Left My Body," which John introduced as "a new song--new to us, you guys already know this song," which was certainly true for me after having nearly a year to listen obsessively to this album at this point.

Afterwards, John asked, "Now how was your Christmas? Kwanzaa?" When Flans replied that it was good, he said he was only saying it to stall. Flans then said that his flight had been "1/3 people, 1/3 infants, and 1/3...dogs. There was a lot of comfort being dispensed. As well as a tremendous amount of shitting."

Then he said the next song was off Flood (requisite cheers) that features "the guitar synthesizer playing of Mr. Dan Miller!" John added that he liked the fact that they had an "active camera operator" (meaning, for the screen on the back of the stage) zooming in on the person being discussed. "It's very exciting. It's very distracting. 'Oh, that's what the back of my head looks like.'"

After that they played "We Want a Rock," a Flood song they don't play very often and one of my favorites, so this was a thrill for me. Also, at this point in my notes I have the extremely excited all-caps single word "GRAY," which I believe means during the song I realized John was visibly gray at his temples, so that was a thrill as well, although to my eternal disappointment he continues to resist letting it even progress beyond that.

Afterwards, Flans explained to us that the show was two sets and was functioning as "the big warm-up show for our show in Philadelphia tomorrow. We're figuring out what songs we're not gonna play tomorrow. So the ones we really wipe out on tonight you can rest assured will be Xed out on tomorrow's setlist."

JF: I realized--one of the reasons that last song was so effective was that in rehearsal yesterday we all managed to find our own space to enter on the *fast guitar strum* part. It was shocking.

JL: It's true, yeh, yeh. I'm sorry that everyone missed that.

JF: It was just like, y'know--it was like a--I don't even know what day of the week--it was--Casual Whatever Day It Was.

JL: Well, I came in on a Tuesday.

JF: I just know I came in first and I was wondering where everybody else was.

JL: You were there to greet us at the finish line when we arrived. Like, "Hey! Congratulations."

Next up was "Science Is Real." I've only been to a couple of kids' shows and there aren't that many kids' songs I'd even necessarily want to see live, but this is a great one.

Afterwards, John explained that Dan would be playing keyboard on the next song, and that he wanted to warn him that "people are standing really close to you and can see your hands. It might make you self-conscious. It definitely made me self-conscious." Flans: "Pre-written cheat sheets on your fingers." "Yes. All the pieces of tape on the keys that say the names of the notes." I know that was a joke, but I've been at other shows where he's talking about having members of the band too close to him on stage while he's playing keyboard makes him self-conscious because he's afraid they'll notice his improper technique (as a non-keyboard player I'm not sure what specifically he's referring to), so it seems this is a real fear of his. Strangely, he appears to have no technique-related embarrassment over the fact that (with very very occasional exceptions) he completely ignores a full half of the accordion.

Speaking of accordion, the reason Dan was playing keyboard was because he was on it for the next song, "Let's Get This Over With." I love the arrangement with the accordion so much that I'm really disappointed that it wasn't included on the album version--but all the more reason to relish seeing it live.

Afterwards, John excitedly informed us that Dan was coming back to the keyboard.

JF: By popular demand! What kind of band is so organized as to put all the keyboard songs right together in the setlist? We're seamless. We won't tease you with medleys, but we'll dazzle you with our organization.

JL: That's right. Exactly. That's why people keep showing up. It's not the songs. It's not the performances. It's the high-level professional whatnot.

The next accordion + Dan on keys song was "Doctor Worm." Afterwards:

JF: We are gonna emotionally bring it down now, ladies and gentlemen.

JL: Emotionally bring you down. But then we're gonna come to your emotional rescue.

The next song was indeed an emotional one: "Trouble Awful Devil Evil."

Flans introduced the next song, "Bills, Bills, Bills," as being written by 14 people, from the aughts, "a terrific decade." John said it was actually from the very end of the '90s, perhaps the first time in recorded history that he was hipper about popular music than Flans is. (Then again, I only know when it was released because, as someone who was in high school in the suburbs of Houston at the time, I have a distinct memory of the uncontrollable excitement of my classmates over this Houston-based band suddenly becoming wildly successful.) He explained that the song was recorded by Destiny's Child and then re-recorded by Jonathan Coulton, who would also be opening their show tomorrow, and they didn't know if he was going to play the song, but if he did they wouldn't (John said this might necessitate "some yelling, some arguing").

They closed out the first set with "Spy." During what I would describe as the Actual Song Part (i.e. before it really gets good with the extended improv section), Flans was singing with what I wrote in my notes as "whispering" but is perhaps more accurately described as a quiet falsetto. As for the improv part, it featured a good amount of full-band jamming (as opposed to the just individual people thing that's often how it goes), and there were also some fun weird samples from John (but more just noises, not bits of recognizable songs like I've seen him often do lately).

When they returned after the set break, Flans said it was "so exciting to be so close to Connecticut." Then he said, uncertainly, that the next song features "the contra-bass clarinet," and when John informed him it was actually the contra-alto he asked "How many times does he have to say it?", which is a fair question because I've seen him mix up clarinet types on multiple occasions.

They followed this with the two obvious low-clarinet-of-some-form songs, "Cloisonné" and then "All Time What." This was followed by the decidedly not obvious "You're on Fire," which they'd only played two other times in the previous three years. This is one of my fav Nanobots tracks, and it makes me sad how songs from their more recent albums have a tendency to fall off the setlist once the tours for them are over (though I recognize too that with the length and prolificness of their career the number of songs they have to whittle down for a setlist is increasingly absurd), so I was excited to see it. Afterwards, Flans said Dan had an "adult-portion" guitar, and that's how you know the guitar is from America. John added that the guitar has a cream filling. "It's not solid chocolate. It's like one of those European pastries. But made here."

After that they played "The Mesopotamians," which I've seen so many times I can't really get excited about it anymore, but after that came something I definitely could, because neither I nor anyone else had seen it yet: "The Bright Side"!!! This was so unexpected and exciting (it's one of my top tracks on I Like Fun, and one of the songs that seemed so obviously designed to be amazing live that the fact that they hadn't been playing it was completely baffling) that it occasioned three exclamation points in my notes as well. Thus far (I'm finally getting to this review a good time later) it remains the only time they've played it, which is even more baffling, since once they've learned it then what the hell is stopping them? But I just feel so fortunate to have been there to witness it--it was every bit as terrific live as I'd expected.

Afterwards, John said he didn't think they'd played it live but couldn't remember for sure (he was right, as noted above). Flans said he thought they'd played it in Germany and then decided not to anymore, "in spite of the fact that fucking up the lyrics doesn't really matter in Germany." Then he noticed that Marty was shaking his head, indicating that they hadn't played it, and I didn't notice but Dan must've somehow indicated that he agreed with Flans, because John said that "the guitar players" thought they'd played it before, and "once again Danny has to cast the deciding vote. *pause* Danny, very diplomatically, is saying we played it at soundcheck."

Flans then said it had been a very successful year of touring for them ("other than the failure in Germany that we alluded to," John added). Flans continued that they'd toured all over the United States and also Canada, "in spite of common sense." John said it was their first-ever tour of Canada, and then:

JF: We've toured places that they forgot to call Canada in our lives, like the northern peninsula of Michigan. It took four days to do one show.

JL: And then the snow buried the memory of it. It's like the Franklin expedition. Still trying to uncover the body of that show. *mostly silence* Some people got that reference to the Franklin expedition. I got it.

JF: All roads lead to cannibalism for me, John. *pause* So uh--what's next on the setlist?

JL: We got some more songs.

JF: Thank goodness, thank goodness. Because this patter is not working.

JL: So we're counting on the songs at this point.

JF: We've got a whole bunch of Mummer Parade jokes ready, but I don't think it's gonna

JL: They don't do a Mummer's Parade in Pawling.

JF: No, John, John.

JL: They should--they could start one. Then we'd have stuff to talk about. Is there a Mütter Museum here, in this town? You guys should have one of those. That'd be cool.

So, a couple of important notes here. I was not, in fact, part of the group with John who got his own reference to the Franklin expedition, but I looked it up as soon as I got back to my computer and like, of course it's something he'd be interested in. I also love the fact that he finds it appropriate to just casually drop such references in the middle of a rock show. But it's actually really fun for me when he does reference things I don't know--I like getting the chance to learn things from him.

But it's also really fun for me when he references things I do know, which brings me to important note #2: Philadelphia's Mütter Museum, a collection of medical oddities that includes, among other things, an entire wall of skulls, is one of my absolute favorite museums anywhere and the place I was most looking forward to visiting when I stayed in Philadelphia for a bit after the show the following day. It's also the kind of place I always imagine John must also love, so when he mentioned it without even meaning to I yelled "YES!!!!!", a somewhat embarrassing reaction that is now eternally preserved on a bootleg of the show, but not too embarrassing because it really was that uncontrollably exciting.

After "Mrs. Bluebeard" (complete with John adorably standing up on his toes at the end) came "Robot Parade." After it gradually built in intensity from quiet to full-on rocker like it tends to do live (which is always fun, though I wonder what it would be like for them to just do the rocker-all-the-way-through "Adult Version" sometime), Flans (with his robotic vocal effect) began to explain the "human theremin" thing that's also frequently a part of the live shows. "If you don't know what a theremin isssss, ask your friend real faaaaaast. They'll explain it so well. You have five seconds." (He actually gave us a break of a bit longer than five seconds, but did seem to be counting on us to know or have friends to explain because no explanation from him was offered.)

After that, he introduced Marty, making his way to center stage. "Mr. Danny Weinkauf, Mr. Dan Miller now leaving the stage, our crew now entering the stage. Wearing nothing but clothing from the They Might Be Giants clothing line. Available to them at a staff discount of 5%. That 5% is directly related to their fingertips." Then:

JF: I don't think you can have any photography during this portion of the show. Cos you have to experience it in the moment. And then tell your grandkids about it later. "You wouldn't believe this. I saw this thing."

JL: "They wouldn't let me use my phone."

JF: "They were such PRICKS." I know those guys. I was with them in Pawling.

(They were joking, but--important as photography is to me--I do in fact stop myself from taking pictures during particularly exciting parts of the show, for example during a song I particularly love and haven't gotten to see much, for that very reason.)

So then they played "Shoehorn with Teeth," complete with the glockenspiel (that would be Marty's occasion for moving to center stage). Seeing it performed that way (with Dan Hickey rather than Marty of course) is one of my most salient memories of my early days of show-going, back on the Mink Car tour, so that made me very nostalgic, and seeing it in its old familiar place immediately following "Robot Parade" (though without Flans's "John, I think we're losing the crowd" bit in between) even more so.

Afterwards, Flans gave us permission to get "back to your regular filming now" and said that they were "trying to get into the Japanese-press-conference-style continual video flow." Then he said that he's grateful for cell phones for many reasons, but he did find it very hard to believe (or "suspicious," as John put it) that Bono had a bike accident in Central Park and "like heliported out of there" without there being any videos of it.

JL: Why were there no phone videos of the moon landing?

JF: Exactly.

JL: Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?

JF: Yes. Let's get Alex Jones on the line.

JL: Why isn't he a hoax?

JF: It turns out he wasn't real. Actually I believe when he was getting divorced that was his defense. That he was in fact a hoax. And his wife agreed.

Then Flans shifted back to the previous song, eliciting more cheers for Marty and telling us, "We spent days sharpening up that glockenspiel." John said they hadn't rehearsed, and that he was "sweating." Flans: "We'd have to charge more if we rehearsed."

Next they played "Letterbox" (a favorite and always an absolute delight for me, although I've seen it a fair bit), followed by "Meet James Ensor" and "Istanbul." Band intros came next and included Dan on the "sister-hugging electric guitar" (Flans thanked and thus moved on from Dan while he was still playing his bit), someone in the crowd yelling "HOLY SHIT" after Marty, to which John responded "Holy shit is right," and then a refusal to allow further soloing from Marty in spite of crowd demands ("He's cut off," Flans explained).

They closed the second set with two wildly tonally different but both completely spectacular songs, "Dead" and "Experimental Film." The latter of which was particularly exciting for me because it's a favorite and I've almost never seen it. Also exciting was the fact that John changed the "but which I'm still figuring out" in the second chorus to "and which," an admittedly silly tiny thing that's always bugged me intensely, because "and" is clearly the conjunction that actually makes sense. I want to believe he changed it intentionally because he finally realized this, but it's much more likely that he actually just forgot how it goes.

When they returned for the first encore, John said "New Year's is gonna be a big disappointment for us," which I'm assuming was meant to be an expression of gratitude for the enthusiasm of the crowd rather than a wry comment on actual expectations.

The first encore was "Man, It's So Loud in Here" (more intense early show memories for me, although it was the rock version), followed by "Damn Good Times," which I've mostly seen as a show opener but also works well in the encore. According to my notes, it included "windmilling, pointing @ Dan, silly faces."

The second encore began with "Ana Ng" (starting with a goosebump-inducing minimal musical accompaniment). Flans said that now, after a song from the second album, they'd been playing one from the first, an introduction that made me excited no matter what it would be as that's (tied for) my favorite album, but the song in question was one that did particularly, as it's also in the "songs I absolutely adore that I've only seen a very small number of times" category: "Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes"! So that was an absolutely swell way to end an absolutely swell evening.

Final John thoughts: red stripey pocket t-shirt, what I like to think of as an Ultimate Linnellian Shirt (he also has a blue one). His hair was actually a decent length (something I can tragically no longer take for granted like I could for so many years) and looked GOOD. This was my sixth show since all-spex-all-the-time became the rule, but I still haven't gotten used to it, and I doubt I ever will.