Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Latkes and Hams

December 8, 2011 - Peter Jay Sharp Theatre - New York, NY

This was a rather impromptu show for me. I initially didn't think I was going to be able to go because I was working, but ended up trading shifts and making it work. The show was a benefit for 826NYC hosted by Sarah Vowell and she had clearly called in some favors with her friends to get guests to appear and made a pretty cool show out of it. Initially, I wasn't even sure how many songs TMBG was going to play and whether or not the show was going to officially count on my personal show count (for the record, I established at some point that they had to play a bare minimum of of three songs for me to count the show, but thus far I haven't had the need to debate whether a show qualified), but, to my surprise, they played as many songs as the typical in-store, putting this one solidly on my list.

I went in to the city for the day with my friends John and Rebecca, and met up with our friends Heather, Jim and Mike there. We were, as usual, stupidly early and spent a good deal of time sitting in the bar attached to the venue waiting for a reasonable amount of time to pass before we could wait in the lobby. Once we eventually did end up in the lobby, Flans, Linnell and Marty passed us entering the venue just as we were being let in ourselves.

We got front row seats and enjoyed a live concert being played on the sound system before the show got started. The evening was hosted by Sarah Vowell and Eugene Mirman, and they interspersed the acts with some of their own comedy which included answering questions that the audience had written down for them.

TMBG went on last. Among the acts that preceded them were some music from John Wesley Harding (I had never heard of him), surprise guest Jim Gaffigan telling a lot of the same jokes I had heard him tell when I saw him opening for TMBG earlier in the summer, and Mike Birbiglia whom I very much enjoyed. He told a very entertaining story about cancer (I know, right?) as well as a tale of his encounter with a bear while fishing. Fred Armisen, of Portlandia fame, also appeared, doing a mix of comedy and music. In particular he did a very funny bit on the average person's attention span for jazz and a re-imagining of a Beatles song. He also made me very uncomfortable at one point by singing while staring directly at me with increasing intensity. It was deliberate and funny but I am too self conscious to not shrink in my chair. Sarah and Eugene also each did their own routines, in addition to the comedy they provided together. The funniest bit of any of it, in my opinion anyway, was Sarah doing her impression of Flansburgh taking a nap as a child in his modernist all glass house. This basically consisted of her leaning her head back with her arm draped over her eyes to block out the sun.

When TMBG finally hit the stage at the end of the program, they did so in some very snazzy suits. Damn those boys clean up good. It took Linnell a while to get his microphone situated on the accordion and some jokes were made about whether we were really having a good time or not. Linnell said that people would say "whoo" to anything even if they weren't having a good time. Flans kidded that someone would be collecting watches and jewelry after the show and that a guy on 104th St would also be collecting watches and jewelry so we might as well give it up now. When they finally got themselves situated, they started with How Can I Sing Like A Girl? Oddly, Flans stood through much of this performance, clutching the bottom of his suit jacket.


Flans welcomed Marty to the stage and he appeared in an extremely fetching gray suit and seated himself at the world's smallest drum set. It was a normal size snare set up with some cymbals and a teeny tiny kick drum, complete with a Join Us cling on the front. We agreed afterward that he looked for all the world like a little boy dressed up to perform at a church concert. It was absolutely adorable.


Flans had a little trouble getting his guitar going so Linnell riffed for a couple of minutes, explaining that they had recently been trying to increase attendance at their shows and thus had learned most of their Lincoln album because they thought people wanted to hear it. "Our new stuff is great!" he added. He said they would be playing a number of Lincoln songs this evening since they had just learned them. Flans claimed that he had already known how to play the one they were about to do. Which turned out to be Pencil Rain.

Before the next song, Flans told Linnell that he had Marty had been talking before the show and thought they should either do the song super quiet and super fast or super quiet and moderate, but they wanted to get Linnell's opinion. Linnell asked the crowd, who all suggested fast. He said he appreciated the mob rule thing. And then they set about playing a super fast and super quiet version of Istanbul. I particularly enjoyed the speed at which Linnell tackled the accordion intro and Marty's rapid fire use of his brushes on the snare. Afterward, Flans made a joke about the song being old and Victorian graves that I didn't quite catch.

Flans told us that Old Pine Box was about a burn out sort of person. And Linnell claimed that Marty Beller Mask was a true story about their drummer, and once again read the first line aloud to the crowd to make it clear what it was about. When they finished that song Linnell said he felt like they should slow the show down somehow because it was going to fast. He suggested they have some technical problems. Flans suggested they take some questions from the audience Linnell suggested questions from the drummer. Flans added questions from inside their souls. Flans expressed his wishes that we were all getting our holiday shit together. "Sorry, if you're not," said Linnell.


Flans tried to get the next song started but Linnell stopped him to point out that he very rarely wears the accordion over a suit and while he was sure it looked great (Flans then stopped him and had us clap for how great Linnell looked in his suit with the accordion), he really did not advise ever wearing an accordion over a suit because it was just a bad idea. Flans then added his own advice for anyone ever playing guitar at Symphony Space (the name of the actual stage space they were playing on), by demonstrating that there was only one way you could face without getting terrible feedback from your guitar. He did some very comical back and forth turning the feedback on and off and they joked that it was an excellent way to tell which direction you were facing with your eyes closed. Then finally they got around to playing Stand On Your Own Head. It was still cool, but I wasn't nearly as excited about it, without Dan's impressive guitar picking.


Linnell went to collect his bass clarinet to play Cloisonné while Flansburgh lamented that his couldn't give his usual line about never hearing the words "bass clarinet" again in the venue because they were playing in a space that saw bass clarinets all the time. He then told us a little bit about 826NYC and the fake store front they have for super hero supplies in Park Slope that is very popular with the kids. He then used this as a segue into a story about his early days in New York when store fronts were so cheap that people in the nickel bag business operated them. He said his first week in New York he went to do laundry at a laundromat with one of these establishments next door and walked in thinking it was a place he could buy some soap. Whoops. Welcome to New York.

Linnell had some issues transitioning back to the accordion again after Cloisonné, due to his suit and the need to reattach his clip on mic. He said he liked clip on mic and need to remember for the future "no suits and clip on mics, yes." Flans meanwhile, situated himself by a stool and declared that he was going to stand next to it with his fingers resting on it like Art Garfunkel. "Boy, that guy can sing. Like an angel." Linnell then explained that the next song was the theme song from an old TV show that Flans said aired right after Laugh In. Linnell said his parents used to let him stay up late and watch it. Of course, they were talking about The Mesopotamians.


They clearly intended that to be their last song, but they were encouraged to come out and do an encore, despite Flansburgh's claim that they had no more material. Flans also offered another piece of advice for bands playing in Symphony Space, that the thing that looked like a curtain back stage was a wall. "Diggity, diggity, owww." Sarah Vowell then called from the wings for him to do "the nap thing." Flans didn't know what she was talking about until she explained that she had done her impression of him taking a nap. At which point Flans gave his own impression of taking a nap in his all glass house, which Sarah had clearly been mimicking. Hard to say who did it better, but Flans commented that his version had elicited an "awww" from the audience. Linnell told him that was going to happen more often as he got older. Flans said he was getting the sympathy vote. They then introduced Maybe I Know, with the standard story about busking on the Brooklyn Promenade and getting money from a relative of Ellie Greenwich, who wrote the song. In this version it was her mother who gave them $10. (More frequently, I have heard the version where it was her aunt who gave them a $20. Who knows if they even remember the correct details anymore).


And with that last song, the show was over. We went out for some late night New York pizza and called it a day well spent.

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