Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy Birthday - I Was On Your Bus

Once again, I have run into a situation where I started writing this recap close to a year ago, immediately after the show, and then never followed through and finished it. There are parts I can still fill in vividly, and others have completely faded. But the story of this show is the kind that really needs to be told, so I couldn't just let it go unheard. I'll note where the break in the recap is, and any ommissions after that point are due to faults in my own memory and the fact that I have seen like forty shows since this one.

April 3, 2013 - Paradise Rock Club - Boston, MA - Flood Show

When I first saw that TMBG were playing Boston on my birthday, I knew it would be memorable and a rocking good time. I just didn't know it would be _this_ kind of memorable.

My friend John and I arrived at the Paradise around 3:00 and were the first people there. There wasn't much going on. We saw Flans walk by and retrieve something from a car. It should also be noted that, due to it being my birthday, I had elected to wear a cheap novelty tiara that I picked up at iParty that said "Happy Birthday" on it. Yes, it was a little ostentatious, but if you can't be a princess of your birthday, then when can you, right? Anyway, Flans walked into the venue with Scott, and, noting my tiara, said "happy birthday" as he passed. Birthday win, thought I! Then a few minutes later, he poked his head back out of the venue and said "I don't know if it's really your birthday..." "It is, I swear!" I said. And he handed me a signed vinyl copy of Nanobots and a poster. I think I remembered to say thank you before he disappeared again. :-)

Shortly after this, my friend Kathy arrived and joined us on the sidewalk. Dan walked by on his way into the venue, and said hi. So did Curt. Then things started to get weird. This strange guy appeared and started drawing on the sidewalk with blue chalk. It was a little unclear if he was drunk, on drugs, generally disturbed or some combination there of. He drew a big semi circle from one side of the venue to the other and down at the bottom, wrote KARMA. Between his graffiti endeavors, he would sit on the trailer hitch on the back of the tour bus, which was parked in front of the venue, and drink out of a large plastic pitcher. Like the sort you put lemonade in. It looked like he was drinking water, but who knows for sure. Then he'd get up and do some more drawing, eventually decorating the sidewalk in front of the building next door too. Then back to sitting on the trailer hitch. He made all of us nervous enough that John wasn't comfortable leaving us alone to go put some stuff in the car until the dude had wandered away. Of course, no sooner had John gone to the car than Crazy Dude returned.

After a little more sitting on the trailer hitch, Crazy Dude walked over to where I was sitting with Kathy on the sidewalk and asked if it was my birthday. "Yeah," I said reluctantly. I couldn't exactly say no, since I was wearing the tiara. It was kind of obvious. He asked how old I was turning, which I foolishly told him. "You know what that means?" he asked, excitedly. "32 years ago today, you were born!" I didn't exactly have a response to that. And then he asked why I was going to the concert. "Why not?" I replied, trying to get him to go away. He apparently found this answer very exciting, as he walked away hollering about it and doing a little jump dance. He disappeared once again, but the next time he returned he REALLY made his presence known.

John returned from the car. The band started soundcheck which we could vaguely hear through the walls. Then I got distracted as some members of one of the bands family exited the club, saying something to the guy at the door about being "spooked by some guy inside." And then the next thing I knew, there was a lot of shouting and Crazy Dude was causing a big commotion over by the bus. Members of club security, Brunette, Scott and Flans were all standing on the sidewalk, as Crazy Dude sat on the trailer hitch, screaming at them. One of the security guys was trying to get the dude to leave and he absolutely refused, yelling about how he had every right to be there, and screaming obscenities. Flans headed back into the venue, where more security folks were coming out the door. "You got a phone?" asked Flans. The guys nodded. "Call the cops." said Flans. While one of the security people spoke to the police on his cell phone, Brunette and the other security guy continued their attempts to get Crazy Dude to leave. He started running laps around the tour bus, hollering the whole time and trying to get the guys to chase him, while a venue employee gave a description of the proceedings to the cops on the phone. Then Crazy Dude ran out in the middle of the sidewalk. He started screaming about how it was my birthday and how he wanted to see "the musicians" (he repeatedly referred to the band in this manner), and something about them signing my album (he apparently thought I had brought the record I was holding with me to be signed, not realizing the band had given it to me already signed). It briefly looked like there was going to be a fight, but Crazy Dude just laid down in the middle of the sidewalk and dared the guys to try to move him. And then, eventually, the dude just wandered away. The cops never did show up (apparently, they went to the wrong address). Crazy Dude came back a while later but turned around before he got to the venue. Security guys remained by the bus for the rest of the evening, making sure the dude didn't return and cause more trouble. The story was recounted multiple times as more members of staff arrived, and we eventually filled the security guys in on what we had seen earlier to kind of fill in the blanks.

Somewhere in all this, I said something to one of the crew about not having anything to do with the crazy guy screaming about my birthday. I didn't want them to think I was somehow responsible. The response I got was not encouraging. "Oh, he was in here [here being inside the venue]. He made sure _everyone_ knew about your birthday." Oh crap. This was the point at which I really started to panic. I was sure the band, or at least Flans, was going to be pissed and my reputation as the "good fan" was going to be forever spoiled.

After they finished sound check, various members of the band and crew made trips to and from the bus. Marty walked over to me carrying a small keyboard, and started talking to me about a picture of mine I had let him use. No mention of the incident with the crazy guy. But then as he went to walk away, he looked at my tiara and started to ask if we were celebrating someone's birthday, and then stopped himself, with a look of realization. "Oh it's _your_ birthday. Happy Birthday," he said as he walked away.

Danny walked by shortly after, and also wished me a happy birthday. And then we spent the last 45 minutes or so before we got to go in, listening to members of security regale each other with the story of Crazy Dude, and freezing our butts off since the sun had gone down. Doors were late because Moon Hooch was still sound checking. Seems Crazy Dude had delayed things by a good twenty minutes.

Inside, we took up a position on the left side of the stage, and were joined by our friend Stacy and one of her friends. Crazy Dude story was related once again. Nothing like a good story to pass the time. Moon Hooch came on and did their typically rocking set. We had a brief but heated dispute with some girl in the crowd who insisted on putting her empty drink on the stage in front of us. I mention this only as context for why, by this point I was fairly paranoid and stressed out.

TMBG setlist: Hey Mr. DJ - Theme from Flood - Damn Good Times - Lost My Mind - Drink - Call You Mom - Nanobots - Doctor Worm - Twisting - Letterbox - Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love - Women and Men - Lucky Ball and Chain - Whistling In The Dark - Hot Cha - Hearing Aid - Minimum Wage - He's Loco - Particle Man - We Want A Rock - Someone Keeps Moving My Chair - They Might Be Giants - Dead - Your Racist Friend - Birdhouse in Your Soul   Encore - Road Movie To Berlin - Istanbul Encore 2 - Tesla - When Will You Die - Mr. Me

Can we talk about how awesome Hey, Mr. DJ is with the horns? Cause it REALLY rocks. Totally explosive start to a show. Sooooo good.

There was a young girl in the front row who leaned across the stage to touch Linnell's leg under the keyboard. He gave her a "don't do that" look. Flans called her out on it and told her not to touch the band. "There are so many potentially career ending things I could say right now," he quipped. Flans then explained that they would be performing Flood, but that they would not be playing it in order and there would be commercial interruptions and pledge breaks. He said they had a new tote bag that they would be offering during the pledge breaks. And he joked about how, when they did their first Flood show, they realized that if they only played a 42 minute set, the audience would feel ripped off, so they had decided to supplement the set. They also mentioned their new album and said they would be playing some songs from that, but that the next one wasn't one of them.

Flans joked about not having his note ready for Theme from Flood and Linnell gave it to him again. And then away they went. Except they played right into Damn Good Times afterward instead of Birdhouse, which just sounds odd.

Before one of the new songs, I think it was Lost My Mind, but it could have been Call You Mom, Flans called over to me. "Hey, birthday lady, er, birthday girl. Hope you aren't offended that I called you lady." I wasn't, but I was nervous to the point where I was sure that Flans was about to ask me to remove the tiara because it was distracting him or something.  "Do you have that album I gave you?" Flans then explained to the crowd that it was my birthday and they had given me a copy of their new album. Meanwhile, I was digging around for where I had tucked it under that stage. I briefly panicked when I couldn't lay my hands on it immediately, but I pulled it out and held it up, for the crowd to see, while Flans discussed the vinyl. He said they had gone to a new company in the Czech Republic to have this one manufactured and they were really impressed with the vinyl itself. He said the actual vinyl was as impressive as the packaging. He made a joke about how there were lots of people who were audio-philes but there weren't many Czech-ophiles. Then someone else held up their vinyl, while "wooing" and Flans declared that person to be a Czech-ophile. I had a brief internal debate with myself about how long I needed to hold up my own vinyl, but was relieved after this episode, that Flans did not seem to hold any ill will towards me.

I love watching Marty do Lost My Mind, cause he does this thing where he whips out both his hands to stop the cymbals on either side of him, during the chorus. Its so rhythmic, and it looks so cool. Actually, I picked the left side of the stage tonight, mostly so I could watch Marty, because there are so many of the Flood songs that are fun to watch him play. Sapphire Bullets, Road Movie, Hot Cha. I honestly don't think I will ever get tired of watching that man play.

Flans gave us chanting instructions for Drink! and told us we needed to chant in waltz time. A number of jokes were made about this. I think we did pretty well as a crowd. Good chanting, team!

Another rousing performance of Call You Mom, once again with horns. God damn, that song plays well live.

Flans once again did his Robot Flansburgh routine before Nanobots.

Flans: "Things are about to change."

Linnell: "Things have already changed."

Flans: "Things are really about to change."

Linnell: "I'm scared, man."

Flans: "You should be scared."

Linnell: "I've got a question Robot John Flansburgh."

Flans: "Yeah, what's your question?"

Linnell: "How did you become Pope Robot The First."

Flans: "It's a complicated story."

Linnell: "We got time."

Flans: "You see, there was a conclave. 

Linnell: "Go on."

Flans: "There was a conclave. The band and the crew met in the back lounge of the tour bus, just three weeks ago. There was a small box. And members of the conclave decided who would represent them. White smoke poured out of the back lounge windows and it was determinded that I, Pope Robot Flansburgh The First would take over for the dearly departed Pope Robot Zero."

Linnell: "That is a hell of a story."

Flans: "We will miss him. He only spoke in modem. *modem noises*"

Linnell: "We're gonna miss that guy."

Flans: "No one speaks in modem anymore, but it was a beautiful sound. Only sometimes when somebody puts an iPhone near a machine, I remember Pope Robot Zero. No more modems."

Side note: This is the point where I stopped writing the recap originally, so much of what happened after this is completely gone or very hazy.

At some point in the middle of the show, the Johns told a story about being at the Paradise at as show as teenagers. They were talking about some guy in the crowd at that show who kept shouting something at the band on stage (I seem to recall that the guy may have been shirtless in the story too). They clearly both remembered this incident some 30 years later, but unfortunately, I can't even remember what it was the guy was shouting. Which is a shame because it was funny and became somewhat of a running joke for the rest of the show. But I've asked every single person I knew who was there and not one of us remembers. Regardless, it was a funny and nostalgic tale about the longevity of the Paradise.

One of my favorite visual moments of the show was provided by the horn players. Tucked off in the far corner of the stage, it wasn't convenient for them to come and go from the stage for every song they didn't play on, so at one point all three of them just sat down on the floor cross legged behind their music stands and were just hanging out watching the show. Gotta say, that has got to be a pretty great life!

If I am not mistaken, this was the Flood show where Marty missed on one of the beats of Sapphire Bullets while he was doing that cool spotting trick that he does. And from this point on in the tour, he changed how he played it and used the electronic drum pad instead. It's a shame because I loved watching him do it the other way, but maybe the risk of missing was too high. Or perhaps it was just time for a change.

The Avatars did most of their bit pretending that they were reading from a prepared statement. And they lamented that they spend most of their time in a suitcase. Blue accused Green of smoking menthols. Green shot back that the schedule said it was a day off. Blue replied that the schedule said Days Inn. And then he made a joke about the car not going to the Courtyard, which he claimed was a "thinker." And then they did their bit about collaborating with Axl Rose on the next song, before doing He's Loco.

I'm going to make a completely fangirly comment here too and point out that for this, my birthday show, not only was it a red pants day, but Linnell was also wearing my favorite shirt, making this a practically perfect visual experience.

Somewhere is the middle of the Flood portion of the show, Flans paused to tell a story. It went something like this (I'm paraphrasing a little but this is pretty close). "So earlier today we're on stage doing soundcheck and this guy comes in and starts talking to us. And we just thought he was one of the local crew, you know. He starts saying how there's this girl outside who is celebrating her birthday and we may want to sell stuff but today should be all about her, and by the way, I've been on your bus for an hour! And that was the point at which we realized we needed to call the cops." Flans then made some remarks about how crazy this guy was, and then turned to me and was like, "You saw him right? He was nuts!" And I confirmed that, yes, the guy was really crazy.

So that's the other half of the story that I didn't witness. Apparently the guy busted into soundcheck, started yelling at the band about my birthday and then declared that he had been on the bus. They didn't realize that he had only been sitting on the trailer hitch and thought he had actually been inside their bus, which was why Flans and Scott had gone outside when security pitched Crazy Dude out of the venue. Since there wasn't actually any real harm done, the whole thing just became a pretty funny story and the line "I've been on your bus for an hour" became a running joke for the rest of the show. So much so that it popped up again during the Avatar segment in Philadelphia two days later.

Apparently, though, after all the joking about the absurdity of the incident, Flans did want to make sure there were no hard feelings. Because when they came back on stage for one of the encores, he made a point of leaning around Linnell's back to address me and said "And we did want to wish you a happy birthday." I said thank you. It was both thrilling and a bit embarrassing to have so much attention focused on me during a show. But boy it was a birthday I won't forget for a while!

I don't remember much of the specifics of the back half of the show, but I do remember thinking it was a particularly good one. The horns always add a little extra something and as many times as I have seen them play Flood, it's always fun because there are songs they play at a Flood show that they don't play otherwise.

After the show, Brunette handed me the setlist, and then both he and Victor were standing there pointing at it and indicating that I needed to look at it. It took me a minute to figure out what they were talking about, until I finally looked down at the setlist to see that, written across the top of the setlist it said "Happy Birthday - I Was On Your Bus." I laughed pretty hard at that. The incident forever immortalized in setlist form.

I hung around for a little bit because I wanted to have Marty sign my vinyl, while he was out signing things. He had had Brunette bring him his drum head to doodle on, and I was standing off to the side waiting for him to finish. I assumed he was fixing up the drum head for the girl that was standing in front of him, but when he was satisfied with his work, he looked up and held it out to me. I've never actually gotten one of the drum heads before and I'm sure Marty knew it. He keeps pretty good track of who he has given them to and who he hasn't. And this one, he clearly intended to be mine, because instead of just the usual caricature of himself and his signature imbedded in the middle of TMBG, that he usually writes on them, he inscribed this one for me. It has the date written on it, and then below he wrote "The best fan of the best fans." I was so touched, I didn't even know what to say besides "thank you." And he graciously signed my vinyl as well. I walked out of the club in such a daze I actually lost the people I was with.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most bizarre, incredible, memorable days of my life and probably the most interesting birthday I have ever had. I have a feeling I will be hard pressed to ever top it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Flood by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandler

Hello TMBG friends!

Many of you have probably seen by now that a couple of fine fellows have written a book about our favorite band's Flood album for the 33 1/3 series.  If you aren't familiar with the series, each volume is about a different musical album. Each book is unique, written by a different author, and takes a slightly different approach to talking about its album. Some are historical narratives about the creation of an album. Some are analyses on the cultural significance of the particular album. Some are very personal stories about the impact of the album on the author. And, what I have always found to be most interesting, the books are a result of an open call for submissions from the publisher, so literally anyone can be chosen to write one if they have an interesting enough story to tell about their chosen album.

I'm not sure if it is true, but it has seemed like at least one book about a TMBG album has been proposed for the series every year, at least since I have been paying attention. But this is the first time one of those submissions has been selected for publication. And I have been looking forward to reading it since it was first announced. The authors were kind enough to have the publisher send me a copy for review when it was released in November, but my "real" job kept me too busy through December to have any time to read it until now.

I am sorry to report, but I was a bit disappointed in the book. It was written much more academically than I was expecting, with its central idea being to relate the concept of "flooding" to the album across several different themes. However, I found the flooding idea to be a bit forced, and found by the end that I could no longer remember what exactly their concept of flooding had been and thus why it was supposed to be relevant in themes like childhood, geek culture, technology, etc.

I think, upon reflection, that the book wasn't really written for fans like me. The band has spoken in interviews about the challenge of arranging a concert that satisfies both the "front row" like myself who want to be surprised and hear the rare and unusual tracks, while also playing all the hits for the people in the middle of the room who came to hear Birdhouse and Istanbul. And I think this book was written for the middle of the room. While it certainly assumed a familiarity with and appreciation for TMBG's music, much of the history presented, both of the band and the making of Flood, was information I learned from the documentary Gigantic years ago, and indeed, several of the narratives relayed are almost word for word from the interviews in that film. Despite the fact that the authors had an interview with the Johns for the book, I felt like I learned disappointingly little about the making of Flood that I didn't already know. This is, admittedly, something that might not be the case for more casual fans of the band reading the book. Not only have I seen the movie, I've read most of the interviews quoted in the book along with a hundred others, so I may actually be too well informed.

Much of the book is not focused on the history at all, but on exploring the themes of Flood and how the album fits into the larger world of geek culture. While much of this analysis was well written and well thought out, I couldn't help but feel they were missing the point. One of the things I love most about They Might Be Giants is that they defy classification. They do no not fit into any one genre or mold and it is possible to interpret their music in any of a hundred different ways to suit a hundred different listeners. And while I fully agree that there is a definite affinity between the band's music and geek culture, I don't feel the authors managed to satisfactorily explain exactly why that affinity exists and what it is about Flood in particular that is so appealing to people of a geeky sensibility. The closest they came, for me anyway, was in discussing the album as post-cool, shunning the accepted "popular" themes and embracing the outskirts.

Actually what struck me as most disappointing about the book, and this is apparently something unique to me as it is exactly the thing that one of the reviewers on Amazon said they liked about it, is that I never had that feeling while reading it of "yes, THIS is why I love this band." There was a brief moment of it, in the epilogue, while describing attending a TMBG concert and the camaraderie that one experiences with the rest of the audience over shared love of the music. But I think, maybe, that just proves that They Might Be Giants mean different things to different people. That it is very possible, and even likely, that another fan might sit down with this book and feel that it exactly captured their feelings on Flood and the band as a whole. And I'm pretty okay with that. I don't need to appreciate the same things about Flood as the authors do, and I don't expect to appreciate the same things as every other fan. In fact, I expect not to.

In short, while the book was not my cup of tea, and was not exactly what I was hoping for when I sat down with it, I wouldn't let that discourage other fans from picking it up. You might find that you identify with it more strongly than I, and it is certainly an interesting and well written analysis. And perhaps most importantly, it's existence demonstrates an acknowledgement that They Might Be Giants, and Flood in particular, hold an important cultural significance in the music world that is oh so rarely appreciated. And for that reason, I am extremely grateful that it exists.

You can pick up a copy from B&N here:

Or Amazon here: