DISCLAIMER: This is long. This may well be really boring. Some parts may be incoherent, because I pretty much rambled, and didn't proofread when I was finished. Read at your own risk.
Long version: If you were to calculate the mathematical average of the opening acts, they were pretty good. Common Rotation is an accoustic trio fronted by the guy who played Warren on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or so I'm told -- I don't watch Buffy). No worse than any other accoustic trio you've ever heard, and good enough to open for TMBG. Generally upbeat, folky songs with clever, often cynical lyrics. Bought one of their CDs, not too impressed by the songs, which are well played but average. Thinking perhaps that their other CD might be better since the songs they played that I liked weren't on this one.
The next act was roundly disliked by my friends Mike and Lance and the people standing around me, but in my experience most people decide not to like the opening act before the music starts. Corn Mo, who wore a white suit and reminds me vaguely of Meatloaf, stepped onto the stage with an accordion and launched right into his song Lollipop... My initial reaction was "ooookay, this is... different..." Different indeed. The man combines the showmanship of glam with the invincible enthusiasm of pure rock and roll. The fact that he managed to get a pretty good rapport going with the audience was nice too. I think the accordion made it easy for most people to dismiss the guy belting out scatalogical songs as "so bad they had to put him onstage," but in a perfect world Corn Mo would be saving popular music from itself. Go to the MP3 page of his website right now and download the song Busey Boy, which is friggin' brilliant. I'll make it easy for you: click here and the song will open in a new window. Do it. Now.
Anyway, on to TMBG... Their concerts always start with the band walking out onstage during a prerecorded intro. Usually this is something bizzare and humorous (check out the Critic Intro and Kitten Intros on the Then: The Earlier Years compilation for examples), but last night it was an excerpt from the O, Fortuna from Carl Orff's masterwork, Carmina Burana. And yes, I'd have known what the music was even if it hadn't been used in every other television commercial in the late '90s.
The Boys from Brooklyn walked out on stage and launched immediately into She's An Angel, which begins by subduing and focusing audience attention, then ends by getting us excited and riled up. They play a very high-energy, feel-good show with a lot of banter between John Flansburgh and John Linnell (hereafter referred to as JF and JL). They engage the audience a great deal.
I was surprised that they played a bunch of their livelier concert standards early in the show -- Birdhouse In Your Soul, Ana Ng, The Guitar, Clap Your Hands and James K. Polk (complete with confetti cannon). I was also surprised by the absence of Istanbul (Not Constantinople), Why Does The Sun Shine?, and Boss of Me. I'm not too broken up about this. When a band has a hit (or an almost-hit, as is the case here), people want to hear it all the time, and they want to hear it played the same way as on the album. Istanbul and Particle Man have changed little over the last fourteen years, and I get bored when I hear them too often.
JL played more accordion during this show than he usually does. During Particle Man, he (almost) sang a little of Desperado before the last verse. Before Drink!, JF encouraged the audience to join hands and sing along. This usually goes over really well and apparently other parts of the audience did it, but the high schoolers who pushed in around me were unnerved by the rhythmic swaying, and were afraid even to grasp their own friends' hands. The band played Twisting and the famous polka, both of which elicited high-energy dancing from everybody in the audience except those standing around me.
Everybody standing around me knew the songs from Mink Car, but most of the material was new to them -- even the stuff from Flood. There were a lot of really young kids in the audience with their parents, which is probably why They swore less than usual. Songs from the children's album No! were well liked, but not many people knew them. John Lee Supertaster and Robot Parade rocked unbelievably hard. The audience was encouraged to send a theater-wide wave from the stage to the balcony, and then back to the stage after the fractions of George Washington's head verse of the song Violin. They also held a front-row dance contest during The Guitar, and the winner supposedly received a book on playing the harmonica and auto-harp, autographed in the author's name by JL. I didn't notice them hand the prize to anybody, but it may have been done discreetly while I was looking elsewhere.
The band played Spin The Dial, in which JF starts the radio dial on one end of the FM spectrum and works it to the other, stopping whenever they hear music to improvise a song of the same style. This is great when it works, but more often than not they hit two songs and a whole bunch of commercials. This was the case last night, but it was entertaining as always.
The show ended with The End of the Tour, which is beautiful live. They came out to do two encores, eventually ending with Doctor Worm and Fingertips.
Several songs from the new album, The Spine, were played over the course of the evening. These descriptions will probably not mean much to anybody, but:
- The Spine: A theme song of sorts. Typical of JL's short songs.
- Memo to Human Resources: Already released on the Indestructible Object EP which came out in April. I was kind of indifferent to this song at first, but they segued directly into this song from The Spine, which sounded really cool and for some reason makes the song work better for me. The Spine and Memo to Human Resources are tracks two and three of the new album, which is cool. Laid back, mellow JF song about ennui and contemplating suicide.
- Wearing A Raincoat: This song was premiered a few months back on Their website, plodding music, cyclical Linnell lyrics. Sounds a lot like a style he was exploring on John Henry. Sounded good then, sounds good live.
- Prevenge: I think this is the one they introduced as having its live premier in Madison. After the first verse, they stopped playing, and a slightly-distorted studio recording of the second verse played quietly over the speakers as they mimed playing the song, which was a cool effect. If you're familiar with JF's non-defunct side project Mono Puff, you might be able to imagine Prevenge (it reminds me a little of the Mono Puff song Poison Flowers, which was featured in the movie Carrie 2). Straightforward guitar rock.
- Bastard Wants To Hit Me: A JL song which can be summed up by the lyrics of its chorus: "some crazy bastard wants to hit me." Very electronic. Very hard to say "this sounds like..." because I can't think of anything else to compare it to.
- Stalk of Wheat: Vaudville-sounding JL song with nonsensical lyrics about being flummoxed ("I was all outta luck like a duck that died, I was all outta juice like a moose denied"). Lyrics more dictated by the style of the music than JL trying to be weird. I buy nearly everything bearing the TMBG imprint so I'd buy this song, but I think it would work better as a B-side than on the album.
- Experimental Film: One song is always pegged by the label or the artist or whomever as the hit single on any album that gets released. On The Spine that song is Experimental Film, which is getting an internet video animated by The Brothers Chaps (who make Homestar Runner), and a traditional video for MTV rotation (ha). This is a really good choice. Gorgeous, bouncy JL song played in a traditional rock (ie, no synthesizers) arrangement.
Also, coming up real soon. Download entire shows by the boys of TMBG. We're here on the road delivering disappointment around America every night. Don't lose out on the fun. Check back soon to get the show you attended or check out what you've been missing.Can you put two and two together? I don't know for certain that They'll sell this show, but I think we can safely assume that any recording they sell will be of higher quality than the one some guy in the mosh pit made with a microcassette recorder. And since the MP3 service profits the band directly, I'd definitely shell out ten bucks for this show.
If anybody's looking for a much better review of the concert, you can find it here.