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Concert Review: They Might Be Giants at Academy Record Annex: 4/16/2013

April 18, 2013

I can’t be certain, but I think that the last time I attended a free in-store performance by a band was when the Presidents of the United States of America played the opening day of the Virgin Megastore in Times Square back in 1997. (“She’s Lump, She’s Lump, She’s Lump, She’s In My Head…”) Times have really changed since then: 12 years later that store closed to make room for a Forever 21 and the last music megastore of any kind in New York City – the Virgin Megastore in Union Square – closed shortly thereafter. At the time, “the music industry [was] stuck in a decade-long crisis” and dramatically falling music sales had many declaring the end of physical media. One employee at the Union Square store even lamented, “Unfortunately the large retail music store is a dinosaur. It [the closing of the store] does matter because it was also a social gathering space, and that’s one thing that buying music online lacks.” While I find it hard to believe that anyone – even a store employee – would find sadness in the closing of a big-chain store like Virgin, I agree that the record store as a physical social gathering space is something that society benefits from and that we should strive to maintain their existence.[1]

Cool merch ... love the hat!

Cool merch … love the hat!

Fortunately, I’m here to tell you that the record store as a social gathering space is alive and well. On Tuesday night, Academy Record Annex in Williamsburg hosted Brooklyn’s own They Might be Giants for a stellar 8-song set to celebrate the release of their latest album, Nanobots. After the set, TMBG stuck around to meet their fans and sign autographs, promising that they wouldn’t leave until every person in attendance (a crowd that spilled outside the store) got all of their sh*t signed (Flansburgh’s word, not mine). There was no requirement to buy Nanobots or any other merchandise, and the two Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) that make up TMBG signed whatever you wanted to put in front of them (“except for a scrap of garbage you pick up off the floor,” said Flansburgh. “We do have some dignity. And it’s just above ‘scrap of garbage.’”)

Great Mesopotamians tee ... anyone know which band member's wife & kid that is?

Great Mesopotamians tee … anyone know which band member’s wife & kid that is?

The performance started just after 7pm and the packed store was already hot and sweaty. I arrived a few minutes before 7pm so could only get as far as the end of the counter (about 15 feet into the long rectangular store), which gave me a great view of the cool merchandise but no view of the band. Nevertheless, the sound was great – I heard the music and the banter clearly – and I understand from others there that even those who couldn’t make it through the front doors heard everything clearly from the sidewalk. John and John opened with “How Can I Sing Like A Girl?” (from 1996 album Factory Showroom), then brought out their bandmates Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf and Marty Beller for a modified version  of “When Will You Die” (from 2011’s Join Us) where Linnell introduced Dan, Danny and Marty lyrically. Everything was played somewhat softly in an acoustic-like manner. (Miller played acoustic guitar, though the performance wasn’t 100% acoustic.) After playing a song off of Nanobots (“Lost My Mind”), the band then went on a parade of hits, singing three of my top five favorite TMBG songs of all time consecutively – “New York City,” “Doctor Worm” and “The Mesopotamians.”[2] If they had stopped right there, דַּיֵּנוּ ! But they played two more new songs, “Tesla” and “Nanobots”, which were good enough to compel me to buy the new album on the spot. (I also bought a vinyl reissue of Factory Showroom, both of which I got signed along with some other TMBG vinyl I already owned.)

2 Johns and a 2bitmonkey

2 Johns and a 2bitmonkey

From there, a line was formed to meet the Johns and get your picture taken and your sh*t signed. It took a while, but in the meantime you had the option of perusing the nearest vinyl as you moved forward through the line, or just talking to the people around you, all of whom shared a mutual interest – this wonderful quirky band. I struck up a conversation with some line-mates about how we found out about the show, the last time we’d seen TMBG perform, classic TMBG gigs from the 1990s (“Remember the conga lines?”), and how we explained the band to friends who’d never heard of them. (“You know the TV show Malcolm in the Middle? They sing the theme song! Yeah, that’s them.”) Like I said, the record store as a social gathering space is alive and well.

All told I got five different albums signed (photos below) and a photo with a smiling Flansbugh and a seemingly exhausted Linnell.  I’ve been a fan of TMBG since the early 1990s and have seen them at least a dozen times, but this was the first time I’ve been able to meet them. They released their self-titled debut album in 1986 and probably peaked with their third album, Flood, which was released in 1990, when the music industry (though the sale of CDs) was exploding. Like the music industry, TMBG has evolved with the times and stayed relevant through ever-changing times. Also like the industry, they’ve not only survived – they’ve thrived. One way they’ve done this is by staying true to their style while expanding their musical offerings, such as by making theme songs and children’s music (winning Grammys for each). Just as importantly, they’ve consistently stayed one step ahead of technology: As far back as 2005 they began putting out regular free podcasts loaded with new and unreleased music; they have an extremely functional website with downloads for their albums and a great email list; a regularly updated YouTube channel; a tumblr for fan photos, a twitter account, a Facebook page, and an instagram page, all managed by Flansburgh himself; most recently they launched an app which offers a new free song every day!

It was a really great night and (yet another) reminder about what makes music so great.  In case you missed it …

Here’s a link to some photos (not taken by me).

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the show (not recorded by me).

And don’t forget to check out all the great links above, plus my review of the TMBG show at Music Hall of Williamsburg on 12/29/2012.


[1] I feel exactly the same about physical bookstores. In both cases , I appreciate that online alternatives like Amazon exist, but I believe it would be devastating if that was all that existed, which is why I frequent independent book stores and record stores and buy from those stores whenever possible.

[2] Rounding out my top 5 would be “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Don’t Let’s Start” (though that last one is debatable). Apparently Birdhouse was on the setlist but didn’t make the final cut for whatever reason. Probably the store’s intense sweatiness, which was mentioned by the Johns several times.

TMBG-Academy (3)

TMBG-Academy (4)

TMBG-Academy (2)

TMBG-Academy (5)

TMBG-Academy (1)

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