Monday, March 25, 2013

Dear Mom, I'm On Drugs Now

March 19, 2013 - The Majestic Theatre - Detroit, MI

One of the hardest parts of traveling the country, going to shows is trying to anticipate how early the fans in any particular city will arrive at a venue to line up. In some cities, arriving four hours early will still not get you at the front of the line. In others, you can show up an hour early and be first in line. And there doesn't seem to be an awful lot of rhyme or reason to determine which are which. Whether because of the weather, or just the habits of the residents of this city, Detroit fell into the later category. I arrived at the venue about an hour and half before doors and there wasn't a soul in line. I couldn't even quite tell where the door to the venue was. But there was a cafe attached to the theater so I figured I would go in and grab something to eat quickly, instead of standing out in the cold alone.

The odd thing about the cafe was that it had a door leading directly into the theater so I could clearly hear soundcheck while sitting at my table, and it got louder any time someone opened the door. The band was running through the Pittsburgh venue song when I arrived, in anticipation of the following day's show. They wrapped it up shortly after I sat down in the cafe, so I didn't get to hear very much. The most awkward part, was that Dan came walking right through the cafe later while I was eating my sandwich, and I tried very hard to look inconspicuous.

I was nervous about not being able to see the line and actually finishing my meal in time to line up, but I needn't have been. 45 minutes before doors and I was still the second person in line. But I timed it perfectly as another 20 or so people showed up in the next 15 minutes. Perhaps everyone was just as reluctant as I was to spend more time outside than necessary. Because it was bitterly cold. 28 degrees with 23 mile an hour winds resulting in "feels like 15" conditions. Seriously unpleasant. Thank goodness I had stopped and bought new boots earlier in the day, after the frozen feet situation in Chicago. The Moon Hooch guys walked out past us while we were waiting, and the saxophonist, Mike, who had introduced himself to me in Cleveland waved at me.

Finally, nearly 15 minutes later than the posted time, they let us inside to thaw. I chose a spot on the right with a good view across the stage. Moon Hooch put on another very well received show for the people of Detroit. And I do believe Mike was having a little fun with me from the stage during one of the songs. Nothing makes you feel quite as "inside" the show experience as sharing a little "in-joke" with someone on stage. I am the first to admit I am totally spoiled in this regard, but it is oh, so much fun.

TMBG setlist: You're On Fire - James K. Polk - Memo To Human Resources - Celebration - Call You Mom - The Guitar - Fingertips - Cloisonné - Drink! - Doctor Worm - The Famous Polka - Whistling In The Dark - Circular Karate Chop - Lost My Mind - They'll Need A Crane - Insect Hospital - He's Loco - Judy Is Your Viet Nam - S-E-X-X-Y - Nanobots - Birdhouse In Your Soul - Puppet Head - 123 Band Intro - Ana Ng - Damn Good Times - When Will You Die Encore - Tesla - Can't Keep Johnny Down Encore 2 - The Mesopotamians - New York City - Istanbul

After James K. Polk, Flans started a discussion about their group bow and how they were finally perfecting it so that they all stood up at the same time. He said they were trying to invoke the Beatles at Shea Stadium vibe. Flans explained that the trick was to look at the other guys out of the corner of your eye so you could all snap back up at the same time. Linnell said you didn't want to be the one guy still bowing after everyone else was done so that someone else had to say to you "Hey, we're finished." Flans said that was what used to happen. "Not to us. To the Beatles. Mostly George." A bunch of people in the audience made "awwww" noises at Flans teasing George. Flans responded, "Hey, he was in the fucking Beatles."

Marty, who was towering above the stage on an ultra tall drum riser, absolutely wrecked his shit on Call You Mom. No, I mean he literally wrecked his shit. Midway through the bit near the end where he just goes insane, he not only managed to knock over the mic pointed at his floor tom, he also hit one of the cymbals with such force that he made the wing nut on top of it come unscrewed and go shooting off across the stage. It was insane. This was the second time in my life I have seen Marty actually break the drums from playing so hard, and both times it has left me awed and stunned. God damn, that man can play.

After Fingertips, Flans recounted a memory of playing in Detroit in August once, when they had opened every window in the venue. Flans declared it to be "the biggest show business mistake since Bat Day at Yankee Stadium. A little bat humor." He then admitted that that joke was "a thinker" and that he was still thinking about it.

Flans: "So recently we've stopped fucking around and started drinking a little more coffee before we go onstage and the thing about it is, it makes the shows go great, but we feel terrible. But that's the price we pay for The Big D, ladies and gentlemen. Bringing entertainment to you people. This song features every member of the band, including Mr. Marty Beller, on the drums, people. Marty actually requested a six foot riser, but it was unavailable." Marty shrugged at this, as if to say "what can ya do?" "This song also has the bass clarinet stylings of Mr. John Linnell, ladies and gentlemen. But we'd like to remind you, don't get to close as the bass clarinet is equipped with a poking stick at the end of it. Don't make the mistake that the Louisville audience made." I love how the Louisville audience has been the brunt of so many jokes during the remainder of the tour. That must have been quite a show.

Flans joked, as Dan tested out his acoustic for Drink!, that the "beautiful, beautiful acoustic guitar" was "almost wasted on a show like this." Flans gave us our chanting instructions saying that "mandatory audience participation is both a privilege and a responsibility." Flans joked about not singing in the monster voice because we wouldn't be able to talk at work tomorrow. Then he chastised a woman at the back of the room for yelling stuff at him while he was trying to talk. "Lady, lady, lady. I'm in the middle of instruction the audience how to do a portion of the show, and you're busting out the crazy Chardonnay talk so early, so early in the evening."

Flans had us do a soundcheck, but was not impressed. "I know it's a bit early in the evening to start comparing Detroit to other cities, so I am going to turn this microphone around and then all the way back to myself. We're going to have a little rewind on that, folks." He had us try it again and then declared it very good. His last instruction was that while the song was super quiet, that did not mean we were to be super quiet.

Danny managed to get some pretty serious height on his leap off of the super tall drum riser during Doctor Worm, and while the picture I took is crap, it is entertaining in that I also managed to catch Flans jumping up into the air.

Flans chose a fan in the middle of the front row to play his guitar on The Famous Polka, instead of the right side of the stage as he has been doing. This person was so good at it, that Flans actually stayed down and played all the chords for the rest of the song while the fan did the strumming, until the song was over. It was, by far, the coolest instance of this game I have seen to date and sounded awesome. Go, random Detroit TMBG fan!!

The Johns talked about Nanobots before Circular Karate Chop and Linnell announced that they had learned some of the new songs, as if this was a major accomplishment. He added that they had done some rehearsing and that there had been some fights. Flans chimed in: "It's got all sorts of songs on it: quiet songs, loud songs, sassy songs, kind songs."

Flans asked Linnell how his day had been and Linnell answered that it was "pretty mellow." "I took an Ambien and slept for 18 hours straight," said Flans. "Well I guess your day was more mellow then," replied Linnell. Flans continued. "I didn't realize how powerful that drug was. I was like 'I'm having a little trouble sleeping' and I woke up and found all my emails had been answered." "It's convenient," said Linnell. "All my dreams and all my emails have been answered," said Flans. Then, pretending to type an email, "'Dear Mom, I'm on drugs now. Don't worry about me.' Send."

Flans informed us that Cicular Karate Chop was in the key of F, for people who were performing in the audience. He declared that this was one half step above the people's key. "It's for the slightly high people."

After this song, Flans interrupted the band and told them that while the next song was great, he wanted to do a different song first. He wanted to play Lost My Mind. I thought this was kind of funny as it is the Nanobots song they have played but have been playing the least on this tour. I wonder if Flans just keeps forgetting about it when he is making setlists and he only just remembered it now.

I can no longer remember the specifics, but at some point in the later section of the show, they returned to the conversation about Flans being on Ambien, and Linnell was describing this whole scenario where Flans was standing in the median of the highway in his pajamas sleepwalking on Ambien. What I can't remember is what he was doing out there in the scenario, which is a shame because I remember it being really funny, and that as I was writing down my note to remind myself, I purposefully didn't write the whole quote because I was sure I would remember it. Doh.

The Avatars did much of the same material they have been doing the last week. While pretending to be having sound issues, Green made a bunch of gagging-like noises then, with long pauses in between, "expensive.......150,000......dollars.......wasted......set-up." They joked about not knowing what city they were broadcasting to, and hoping they were right about it being Detroit, because otherwise people would be angry. "Good thing we don't have ears." Then they talked about their new album with Sir Axel Rose, and there was a brief appearance by the Supreme Court. They were initially facing away from the camera with just their cardboard back visible and then when Linnell turned them around, they were too low. Blue informed them that they needed to be higher in order to be visible in the camera, and they apologized and said that they hadn't rehearsed. The Court declared their typical ruling about the Avatars rocking. Then Green told them "get out of here, you knuckle heads." The Avatars then went on about how you couldn't make that shit up. "No, you shouldn't. You wouldn't. You couldn't." Green has started changing up the DVD that he owns at the end of He's Loco too. I believe at this performance it was Inception.

The ever entertaining Robot Flansburgh routine, continued with some more hilarious comedy gold.

Linnell addressed Flans, then corrected himself: "Or should I say, Pope Robot the First."

Flansburgh: "That is correct, John. I am now, no longer Robot Flansburgh. I am Pope Robot the First."

Linnell: "Tell us how that happened."

Flansburgh: "Super fucked up story."

Linnell: "I know right."

Flansburgh: "Kinda long but I'll try to sum it up. See, there was this other robot, Pope Robot Zero. He was cool, but he got metal fatigue. So he had to be replaced. The crew and the band of They Might Be Giants convened for two long weeks in the back lounge of the bus. For days and days, black smoke emerged from the back lounge of the bus as the decision was being made, as to who would be the next Pope Robot. Then finally, three days ago, the white smoke emerged from the back of the bus. At first there was some miscommunication and it appeared that Chong had been named Pope Robot the First. But it appears, it appears that is was because the VHS player was the only machine working and Up In Smoke was the only tape. You'd think if you got bus built in 2009, you'd at least have a DVD player in there somewhere. Wrong. Just Up In Smoke, VHS. It gets all scratchy during the good part, which is really short. But no, it twas I, Robot Flans, who has been named Pope Robot One. And I am infallible. Even this part of the show which seems terribly long, and slightly outdated even though its less than three days old, still works like a charm."

Personally, I love that they can manage to keep this routine funny over and over and over again. Also funny, it the fact that Flans can just not seem to get the order of the lyrics right in the backing vocals near the end. Yellow bots, marching bots, wind them up, ask them a question, all of these lyrics get mixed up all willy nilly and I think he just kind of hopes no one notices. Well, I notice, Flans. But I think its cute, so its okay.

For the 123 Band Intro this time, I thought it was Dan who had the best one. He laid his guitar flat on the stage and knelt down in front of it. Then he proceeded to play it more like a piano that a guitar, plucking at strings and sliding his fingers on it. It looked and sounded super cool. Danny's was also neat, as he picked up one of Marty's drum sticks and used it to play his bass, tapping it up and down on the strings. Of course, Marty always gets to have the last laugh in this game, and he has a super good time doing this whole rhythm that involves leaving over to press his elbow into the top of one of the drums while he plays it and then whipping back around to the drums on the other side, before leaning his elbow down again. And he always finishes it with some fun sound effects on the electronic drum pad, before just losing his mind all over the drums at the very end. And tonight his post-solo pose for the drum-cam was a splayed arm bow in front of the camera. It was not quite as epic as Cleveland but it was still really cool.

Danny ran into some technical difficulties in Damn Good Times, right at the point at which the songs gets quiet and becomes just Flans singing with Danny playing the repeated bass note and Marty tapping out a rhythm on the drum. Sounding panicked, Danny yelled across the stage to Dan, who turned to him in confusion saying "What?" Danny frantically indicated that he was unable to play. Dan calmly began playing the repeated note for him on the guitar, nodding at him like "don't sweat, I got your back." When Danny got up and running again and the song continued, he said "thank you" to Dan with such sincerity, you'd think he had saved his ass in a much more significant way. I thought the entire exchange was rather adorable, I have to admit.

I believe this was the one night when, though the flashlight was on the stage, it was never used. They didn't do the ape battle or the nick name segment. Not sure why exactly. Either they just forgot or they felt like they were running long.

Flans was plugging their playing cards that they have available at the merch stand. He talked about how they are called the "devil's prayer book" and how he and Marty had been getting deep into the devil's prayer book during the tour, I believe in reference to their poker games. Linnell added that his grandmother actually had called playing cards the devil's prayer book.

Unfortunately, this show started a trend that would continue for the next several shows, of some seriously fucked up audience member appearing at the stage at the end of the show and being really irritating. Not sure why the drug/stoned people seem to gravitate towards where I am standing when they do this, but I sure wish they would stop.

This was one of the livelier Istanbul performances I have seen this tour, mostly because Danny suddenly started behaving like he was on a pogo stick. He was bouncing around for much of the song, but during the fake endings he was just hopping round and round and round in circles in front of the strobe light creating a totally psychedelic effect. I can not imagine how he managed to walk straight when he was done. If it were me, I would have crashed into the drum riser walking off the stage. And he managed to do it while still playing bass. Now that's talent I can appreciate.

Detroit pictures are available here:


  1. you're in good company about the asshole druggies. i had one woman appear somewhere at the beginning of the first or second encore and stick her fucking arm in front of my face so she could take a cell phone photo. i gently, yet firmly, moved her arm out from two inches in front of my nose.

    let's chalk it up to these people not being raised right. not that it's ok.

    (i was in front of linnell's keyboard-haven't been to any live shows since ... 2001? and i'm really disappointed at athe amount of cell phone photos being taken - it's so lame and not living in the moment) we took a few, but jeez. people, i swear, did that instead of listen to the music.


  3. Thanks for the shout out! I was the random Detroit fan on guitar!