TMBG’s “Join Us” TLA Show (or, When I Knew I was Old)

I have to start by saying what I said to GG on Friday night, which is that we used to meet really cool people at TMBG shows, and it was the one kind of concert I could go to and feel like I fit in. However, if that wasn’t the last time we go see a They Might Be Giants concert, it was maybe at least the last time we try to stand up front near the stage. We are now officially old, there is a new generation of TMBG fans, and they are insane.

The evening started with us getting stuck in more traffic than expected getting into the city, leaving us with less time for dinner than we’d planned on, so we went to Jim’s Steaks for cheesesteaks. Then we moseyed over to the TLA, where there was weirdly no line in front of the venue! Usually there’s a line of people going down the block, and it was pretty close to showtime. GG went to the window to ask if the doors were already open, and they directed him to this alley at the end of the block, where we found the actual line. I guess the other businesses there didn’t want people lining up and blocking them (I don’t blame them). The line was already pretty long, but it got much longer after we got there. (There was also a second, shorter line, for people who paid extra for a “VIP fast pass” or something. But guess what – we all ended up in the same place when we got inside, they just got there like ten minutes sooner.) Then it started drizzling a little. And some guy walked along the line, looking for “donations” for his “church” and offering to pray with people. The two guys in front of us had no clue how to deal with him, or in fact, how to act in public. The people behind us were a little more reasonable. GG politely waved the guy away when he got to us, which I was very impressed with.

Finally the line started moving, and we made our way inside. There was no pat-down or bag checking of any kind. I had a pretty big purse and could have brought anything in there with me! People standing around us had all kinds of drinks in bottles and cups. Also, there was lots of flash photography throughout the entire concert (this got me yelled at last time, when my flash went off accidentally before the show even started). I didn’t take flash photos because I think it’s rude to the performers. But it seems that the rules have loosened up a bit. We got a nice spot about 4-5 people back, at the left side of the stage. And then we waited.

During this time, we realized that we were standing behind a group of insane people. GG even referred to them as “escaped mental patients,” which says a lot, coming from him. Even without any music playing, one guy was dancing around, wildly waving his arms around. Another had a long puffy ponytail that bounced up and hit GG in the face as he jumped up and down. GG spoke to them several times, it was awesome. Then there was this crazy girl behind us with multiple face piercings, a hoodie that looked like an alien, and a knit cap that looked like a dinosaur with spikes. How she was not overheating, I’m not sure. I was just in a t-shirt and was so sweaty by the end of the night. One of the crazy guys went over and awkwardly flirted with her for a few minutes before the show started.

The opening act was Jonathan Coulton, who I’ve never seen and I’m not familiar with a lot of his music, but I knew I would enjoy him. And I would have, if his fans were not completely insane (at least, the ones near us were). At one point he said that his song was featured in a video game, and everyone around us started gasping and saying, “Oh, he wrote this song?!” Somehow they knew every word. I have no idea what game they were even talking about. (Not that I would have recognized the music anyway, video games are not allowed in our house.)

After the first act, GG and I switched spots with some guys standing to our left, putting them closer to the center of the stage (and the crazy people), and also giving me a slightly less obstructed view. These guys eventually moved away, putting us next to the crazies again. But also next to us in our new spot were a very nice 21-year old couple, who restored our faith in TMBG fans because they were just as ticked off as we were. Behind us were a group of guys who shouted out the name “Tim Jones!” during any pause in the music, as if they were requesting a song. It took us a little while to realize that Tim Jones was a guy who was with them, and they just wanted TMBG to say his name on stage. GG turned around at one point and bet them a billion dollars that They would not give a shout out to Tim Jones, and guess what, they didn’t. Where’s that money, guys?

TMBG took the stage and opened with “Philadelphia,” of course. I don’t know why everyone was surprised by this. GG and I were more surprised by Dan W’s incredibly tight red pants. The stage set-up was also a little different. There was a large screen behind them that displayed video of random things (dog bones, scissors, underwater shots, etc.), none of it really related to any song. There were videos during about half the pieces they performed. I guess so as not to block this screen, Marty’s drum set was off to the left, toward the front of the stage. It was cool to actually be able to see a drummer! They played a number of selections from Join Us that I was pleased with: “When Will You Die,” “Can’t Keep Johnny Down,” “Celebration,” “Judy is Your Viet Nam.” They played a bunch of really old stuff that I liked: “Don’t Let’s Start,” “XTC vs. Adam Ant,” “Ana Ng,” “Subliminal.” They played newer stuff that was a nice surprise: “We Live in a Dump,” “Take Out the Trash,” “Withered Hope,” “Hollywood,” “Careful What You Pack.” And they played the ones I am so sick of: “Particle Man,” “Istanbul,” “Clap Your Hands,” and a new addition to the list, “Cloisonne” (even though it features Linnell on bass clarinet, and they mention Sleestaks, and it’s probably actually a very dark song about a meth lab).

We got to experience a couple of new things they’ve been doing on this tour. First, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which is actually one of the hidden tracks from Severe Tire Damage. With a big flashlight, an angry Flans drew a line down the center of the audience with “Apes” on one side and “People” on the other. (We were on the People side, though we don’t participate in things like this, so it didn’t matter.) While the Dans and Marty jammed, the People side chanted “People! People! People!” Then while the Johns played, the Apes shouted “Ape! Ape! Ape!” Eh, at least it was better than the conga line thing they were doing when we saw them three years ago. Then we also saw the Avatars of They, which are these weird knitted puppets representing the Johns that they use to perform “Spoiler Alert,” but it was this whole thing where they did a TV show sponsored by Epic Fail Bologna, and it included GG’s favorite exchange of the evening: “Tell me about the ’60s again?” “Whoaaaa…”

As usual, there were two encores (GG foolishly turned around to leave after the first one), and the show ended around midnight. Overall, a great performance, but man, was the crowd horrible! I think from now on we’ll be in the back of the room or on the balcony. GG figured out that the people around us were probably kids when TMBG’s kids albums started coming out (based on the fact that someone shouted out that they were 16). So here’s that new generation of fans They were trying to cultivate.

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