Sunday, November 29, 2009

Night At The Casino

First I must share my TMBG related geek-out from earlier today. I finally got around to watching this week's episode of CSI:NY this afternoon and was extremely excited that the show opened with Mac collecting evidence at the old World's Fair Grounds in the exact spot where the Don't Let's Start video was filmed. He was using paint from the New York map to track a serial killer and all I could picture was the guys sliding around on their backs over that map. I know. I'm a dork.

Also, I finally remembered to go back and track down Astronomy magazine's video interview with Linnell that they did while the band was in Madison in October. It's got some great insights on the creation of Here Comes Science. The interview is in five parts and can be viewed here if you are interested.

And now the show recap...

November 27, 2009 - Wolf Den - Mohegan Sun - Fourth Annual Audience Appreciation Show

I feel a little silly doing a recap for this show given that more than half of the known readers of this blog were at the show with me. But hopefully that means they can fill in any details that I forget :-)

Shows at Mohegan always involve a greater than average amount of line standing since they are first come first served and I was a little concerned that we couldn't get there until 4:00 because I had to work in the morning. Fortunately we were meeting friends who were able to get there much earlier and saved us places in line. My boyfriend and I brought a friend from work with us who had never been to a TMBG show before. I have found I enjoy being at shows with newbies because it gives me the opportunity to see the band through new eyes.

Doors were at 6:30 and the show didn't start until 8:00 so we had lots of time to hang with our friends. We also got to watch lots of comings and goings on stage. It's probably kind of silly how happy it makes me even just seeing Iggy and Victor and Will and Scott wandering around plugging things in and adjusting lights. Marty was on stage for a while putting together his drum kit. I saw all the Velcro Horns come in the entrance past us with horns in tow. Boy, have I missed those guys. Ralph was great but it's like going on vacation. It's fun while it lasts but you're happy to be home. It was obvious the band and the crew have missed them too as there was lots of hugging and back patting.

The band started to wander around getting ready for sound check. All the guys were hanging around chatting for a bit, then started wandering off around the room to tune their instruments. Linnell was sitting at one of the tables, tuning his clarinet and fiddling around with a little tune. Which I later realized was odd since he didn't use it in the show. Dan played some sounds on his keyboard which were LOUD. Kind of freakishly loud. Eventually, they all made it onto the stage and each started playing different riffs to check the sound. Linnell banged out the keyboard part from Withered Hope which is probably my single favorite musical phrase in all of TMBG's repertoire. I got excited when both Dan and Linnell played little bits of Au Contraire but they didn't play it at the show. Maybe someday. They did play through all of Withered Hope. God, that song sounds good with the horns! Linnell mumbled his way through the second verse, forgetting most of the lyrics. But hey, that's what sound check is for, right?

They only did the one song then headed back stage. A bunch of the guys headed out into the casino past us, presumably in search of food. I very nearly jumped out of my skin when Danny noticed me and smiled. I'm very much torn between being extremely excited that he recognizes me now and totally embarrassed that I can no longer blend in with all of the anonymous fans. Of course, if I really wanted to remain anonymous this blog is probably a bad idea :-P And he was wearing his red pants! Happy fangirl!

When doors opened we were seated at a table in the front row towards the right side of the stage, right in front of Flans and Dan's mics. We immediately went to check out the new t-shirt that had turned up at the merch stand. I snatched one up immediately because it turned out to be a Fall Tour 2009 shirt. That's our tour! It has all the tour dates on the back and everything. The front says "Home Taping Is Killing Music And It's Illegal" with a picture of a cassette tape with cross bones under it. My friends thought it was kinda of a downer message but I think it's kind of retro and I'm somewhat of a copyright advocate anyway.

I was expecting pretty much the same Flood show we saw multiple times in October but they changed up the setlist order enough to keep it interesting. Not only did they not start with Meet the Elements, they didn't play any songs of of HCS at all.

Setlist: Clap Your Hands - Theme From Flood - Birdhouse in Your Soul - Lucky Ball & Chain - Twisting - Dead - We Want a Rock - Someone Keeps Moving My Chair - Hot Cha - Shoehorn With Teeth - Hearing Aid - Minimum Wage - Sapphire Bullets - James K. Polk - Women and Men - Whistling in the Dark - Your Racist Friend - In the Middle - Particle Man - Istanbul - They Might Be Giants - Road Movie to Berlin  Encore - Museum of Idiots - Doctor Worm

We got to start the show standing up with Clap Your Hands. It was really hard to jump up and down between the chairs without hitting them. I kept losing my balance. In hind sight we probably could have gotten away with standing for the whole show without people getting too irritated. There were a number of other people standing in various spots around the room. But we opted to remain on the good side of the people seated behind us and sit down. I didn't mind much at all except it was weird to be seated for Birdhouse. Had to bounce in my seat.

The whole band was in such a good mood. I can't remember the last time I saw them all smiling so much during a show. They were being pretty goofy on stage. At one point after making an especially ridiculous comment Flans asked Linnell if he had been drinking. Linnell's reply? "Have you NOT been drinking?" Flans said he hasn't gotten the memo. Linnell also did some good wolf howling at the begining of the show.

Flans started by saying they were playing Flood but not in sequence so not to worry if they skipped something because they'd get to it eventually. And if they missed something we could tell them via their website, They had a bit of a running joke where they'd go to introduce a song making it sound like it was going to be from another album and then it would be another Flood song.

Someone on TMBW was commenting on Dan and Danny having a conversation on stage during Lucky Ball & Chain but they were trying to sort out some sort of sound problem. But Dan couldn't hear what Danny was saying so he kept having to repeat it until Dan eventually took his in-ear monitor out. It may have actually been the monitors they were having trouble with. They got Will involved after the song and apparently got it sorted out.

There were a few other amusing technical issues. Marty needed to fix something on his snare drum at some point and took it off the stand so he was holding it in his lap. Flans told him to give a signal when he was ready to go. Then they started making jokes about how Marty holding the snare drum was a sign.  A sign that the snare drum was broken. Linnell said that it was a signal, like in baseball. "When the catcher is holding the snare drum, it means the snare drum is broken."

Before Hot Cha, Flans said that his brother always thought the song was about their family but since his brother was not here he felt comfortable in saying that it definitely is not.

The other technical problem was discovered as the Avatars were coming on when Marty realized his drum pad next to the electronic kit hadn't been hooked up. Will had to do some running around to get it going before it was needed.

The Avatars were projected onto the giant screen behind the stage that the Wolf Den uses to show wolf footage, rather than on their usual pull down screen. There was some momentary static in the feed and the puppets began talking as if their voices were coming through the screen and you could only hear every other syllable. Very silly. They did their usual schtick about the Avatar movie. One of my friends who is a very casual TMBG fan asked me the other day if the band was actually doing the soundtrack for the movie because she got confused by stuff she had been reading online. It was a combination of sad and funny. I think I spent more time watching Marty do his highly studied bell playing than watching the puppets during Shoehorn. I find it funny that even when he is standing still with his eyes closed waiting for his moment he still can't keep from bopping his head. He just never stops moving.

Dan forgot to come out and play on Polk. He apparently got used to Ralph doing the solo and not having to play. He had gone back stage and Danny had to point out to Flans that he wasn't there after the song started and Flans went back to get him. He got situated just in time for the solo looking a little sheepish.

After James K. Polk, Linnell asked Flans if he had seen the recent book review in the NY Times about the new Polk biography (he had). The lyrics of the song were referenced in the introduction to the review. Linnell said that though he was flattered, he was kind of bemused that the most positive thing the article said about the song was that it was "accurate." Flans had a good time making jokes about that. If you missed the book review, here is the link. It had actually turned up in one of my Google Alerts a few weeks ago.

While talking about the EP that Polk originally appeared on, Flan gave a pretty good description of the purpose of those EPs. He was reminiscing about the indie radio stations that used to receive the EPs to drum up interest for the album. Then Linnell started reminiscing about the money that the EPs used to make. That was about when Flans asked him if he'd been drinking.

Flans commented on the lovely C note playing out in the casino. Fortunately the band mostly drowned it out. Linnell also pointed out the carved wolves perched on the tops of all the pillars around the club which he was noticing for the first time.

They did a second Avatars segment which was even better than the first. I was particularly amused when  Linnell needed to cross the stage to say something to Dan and he took the puppet off so that the audience couldn't see that he was operated by a human. Heehee. Flans kept dropping his arm backwards so that it looked like his puppet was tipping over backwards on the screen. And they did In the Middle which I had never heard before. Yay!!

Linnell stuck Dolly Parton into Particle Man, my personal favorite add on.

Dan Levine and Stan did the intro to Istanbul and a fabulous one it was. Danny and the Johns were obviously enjoying it too because they were standing around the sides of the stage grinning. Flans in particular looked like he was watching his favorite band in concert. He was beaming. I wish I would have gotten pictures of them but it was much too dark.

When Linnell picked up the accordion for the encore I briefly thought they might play Subliminal which I have been very sad to miss at several recent shows, but was just as pleased to hear Museum of Idiots. Unrehearsed, as Linnell said.

I spent half of the band intros trying to get a good picture of Danny (and his red pants). I couldn't see him for most of the show and when I could, it wasn't a good view. I was so sad that he never wore the pants at any of the shows on our road trip. Please, don't ask me to explain why I love those pants so much because I can't. It's just one of those things.

They closed with Doctor Worm, a required tune with the horns. It was kind of funny that they did Museum of Idiots and Doctor Worm for the encore because those were my first two favorite TMBG songs before I was ever a real fan of the band.

The show was far too short. It was over by 9:30. There wasn't even a second encore. But it was awesome enough to make up for the shortness. The boyfriend got a setlist from Victor after the show. Hopefully their wordless bonding will last and he'll keep hooking us up.

Coming out of the Wolf Den, we were ambushed by some old friends of my boyfriend, including the friend he went to his very first TMBG show with 17 years ago. We parted ways with our other friends who all had long drives and went off to one of Mohegan's bars so he could reconnect with his friends for a bit. On our way out we passed Flansburgh in the hall. He was sporting one of the new TMBG 8-Bit Rock tote bags that a couple of my friends had picked up at the merch stand. But he seemed to be in a hurry.

I am very much looking forward to my next show, the in-store and signing at the Borders in Braintree, MA on Wednesday. That is where I saw They Might Be Giants for the very first time, almost five years ago. A lot has changed for me since then, but then again, a lot is still the same. I thought I was going to be pretty cool, but as it gets closer I'm actually really nervous about the signing. My usual strategy when seeking autographs is to say hi at the start and thank you at the end and that is that. But I feel like I really should say something to the Johns considering what a huge part of my life they've been the last year. But I have no idea what to say. I feel like it should be something more meaningful that just thank you. Oh well, I've got the better part of four days to figure it out. Suggestions welcome.

Pictures from the show are up on Flickr. There are some good Flansburgh shots and some funny Linnell expressions.

Monday, November 16, 2009

News From The World

Spent most of today very confused about when TMBG were actually appearing on Craig Ferguson. I had originally heard today, then figured out that it was probably just taping today and airing later. Then the band said tomorrow on Facebook but Marty said tonight on Twitter and it turns out they were pre-taping all along. Their segment wont air until sometime around Thanksgiving, but we do get the bonus of John Hodgman appearing with them. Marty has posted some amusing photos from their visit to the studio here, on his new website. I really like Dan's facial expression in the group shot.

To provide some opinions other than my own about Kids Go! here are two reviews of the book that came in today.

Publisher's Weekly


Really looking forward to the Mohegan Sun show next week, even though it is going to be yet another Flood show. Maybe my 10th time is when they decide to play the whole thing backwards? It appears they will have the Velcro Horns back with them which I really am excited about. I've missed those guys.

Kids' Go!

This is way overdue, given that the book has been out for almost two weeks but I've been in such a funk the last few weeks that I have completely lacked motivation to blog. So, here is my review of Kid's Go! I should preface by saying that not only is this review coming from a fan of the band who has a hard time being truly critical of any of their work, I also have a strong background in children's literature. So this review is partly my own opinion and partly based on what I've learned from many years of reading, studying and selling children's books.

First off, I must express my frustration in actually acquiring the book. I work at a major chain bookstore and out of loyalty, chose to order the book at work rather than from Amazon. Given past experiences with ordering new releases I assumed I'd get the book about the same time anyway. Boy, was I wrong. People started reporting receipt of their Amazon copies on Tuesday and Wednesday of the week prior to release. Everyday, when I got to work I anxiously checked to see if my order had arrived only to discover that it had not. By the time Friday rolled around with no book, I was majorly disappointed. Especially, when I discovered that our stores as far east as Connecticut has received it early, but Massachusetts did not. By the time it finally came in on Monday I felt like I had used up a lot of my excitement waiting for it the previous week.

As for the book itself, I really like it. I don't love it, but I really like it. It's a cute, lively song accompanied by bright, humorous illustrations. I am a big fan of the work Pascal Campion has done for They Might Be Giants. I do, after all, have some of his art tattooed onto my back. If you look at his work, either on his website or even just what he has done with TMBG, he appears to have two different styles that he works in. In one, as can be seen in Nine Bowls of Soup and Photosynthesis, the figures are much more defined, the backgrounds are more detailed and the color pallet is broader. This is the segment of his art that I tend to prefer, but is not the one used in Kid's Go!. The style in the book is much more similar to that of One Dozen Monkeys. The figures are more abstract with less clearly defined outlines, the backgrounds are much less detailed and only four or five colors are used. (Mind you, there is a lot of his work that mixes the two styles as well; 813 Mile Car Trip comes to mind. It is really more of a sliding scale between the two styles with some work closer to one end or the other.)

This is not to say that I don't like the illustrations, because I do. I particularly like the monkeys. They are made to have such expressive faces using very little detail which I really enjoy. I am not as crazy about the style that the children are drawn in. Having seen some of his other drawings of people I wish he had chosen a less abstract style for the kids. But the art works as a whole. The story is really told more with the pictures than with the words. This seems really fitting for a TMBG book, given their dislike of portraying their lyrics literally in their videos. The illustrations only need to match up with some key phrases in the lyrics like "get up off your chair" and "jumping like a jack-in-the-box." Otherwise, the words are just a jumping off point for a jungle adventure with monkeys.

The video is a great bonus. It's different enough from the book that you don't feel like you are just watching the illustrations in motion but follows the same theme and story line so that it works as a sing along from the book. I don't think it is so much intended to be watched while you follow along in the book but rather to be watched after reading the book so that kids have an opportunity to dance.

A lot of the fan response to the book that I have read has been pretty negative. I am not looking to start any arguments but I have to disagree with some of the complaints that have been made against it. I think many fans are comparing it to Bed Bed Bed rather than comparing it to other similar children's books. As such, they are disappointed that it only has one song in both the book and the DVD. I shared in some initial disappointment in realizing that it was just going to be the one song, but I also realized it quite a while before I got the book. It seems like a few fans were expecting more right up until they opened the book and since I don't think the info from the publisher ever indicated it was anything more than the one song, I can only assume that they were expecting it to be just like the last book. I love the songs in Bed Bed Bed but am not crazy about the pictures at all. I find some of them a bit creepy for a kid's book, whereas I think the silly monkeys of Kids Go! are much more kid friendly. So do I wish that this book had more music? Yes. Do I dislike the book because it doesn't? No. I also don't really prefer one book over the other. They've both got aspects I like and dislike.

If you compare Kids Go! to other children's picture books, particularly ones illustrating lyrics from a song, it is very typical. We have dozens of picture books on the shelves in our children's department that illustrate one song and come with a CD of just that one song. Several John Denver songs, including Grandma's Feather Bed, have recently been given that treatment. Last year we got a lovely version of Puff the Magic Dragon. Tom Paxton just did a wonderfully illustrated version of the Marvelous Toy. My point being, that a picture book of this nature doesn't have to have more than one song in order to be a great book. I think we all just got spoiled by Bed Bed Bed.

I think the most important thing to remember in looking at the book is that, if you are over the age of six, you are not the intended audience for the book. I kind of feel like Bed Bed Bed is one of those picture books that parents think is great but kids aren't quite as drawn to. (That being said I have read stories from multiple parents whose young children love the book so that is certainly not universally true.) Kids Go! on the other hand has a lot more kid appeal. The colors are brighter. The monkeys are funny and cute and let's face it, kids just love monkeys. The music on the DVD is lively and bouncy and fun for kids to dance to. But most importantly (and I think this really IS the point), the book is interactive. Kids love stories with "audience participation" (think Going On A Bear Hunt) and this book is really encouraging them to dance like a money while they listen to the story or watch the DVD. We got a book in at work a few months ago about making scary faces where the kids reading are supposed to make the faces as they go along. One of our employees begged our story reader to read it at story time. He didn't think it would go over well but the kids loved it because they got to participate in the story. I'd love to see what would happen if we did Kids Go! at story time.

Lastly, the illustrations are filled with imagination. Children love books where they can interpret the story from the pictures rather than having it told to them. Wordless books or books with very few words are very popular for just that reason. The song lyrics leave the story vague enough that a child can make up his or her own mind about just how the kids end up in the jungle and how that monkey got in an airplane. Or the kids can just listen to the song and dance like a monkey. Actually, adults can too. So, go pop in that DVD and show me your best monkey moves!

P.S. My very favorite part of the book? The page that says "(dance brake!)". That little dash of humor, for me, is what makes it quintessentially, TMBG.