Help us rock out to TMBG
February 13, 2008 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Help us enjoy a They Might Be Giants concert and not stand out like dorks

So Mrs. Writer and I are going to a They Might Be Giants concert in a few weeks. We've become fans after our daughter started enjoying their kid-friendly CDs and DVDs, so here we are: new fans.

We need your help to enjoy the concert - what can we expect? Is it audience-friendly, with interactions? We've been listening to their CD, Flood, for a crash course...what are we missing as must-listen songs? And this is an 18+ show, so there won't be the kids songs to enjoy I bet.

And the bigger question: we're concert n00bs. I haven't been to a live rock-type concert since college (and that was just a local '80s cover band), and she never has...So, do we dance, mill about, drink and enjoy the smoke? Will we be considered as outsiders and shunned? Or are we over-thinking a plate of beans?
posted by fijiwriter to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
At a TMBG concert, it's the non-dorks who stand out. But nobody cares. (I've been to about a half-dozen.)

Really, just wear jeans and enjoy yourselves.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:08 AM on February 13, 2008

I'd say you're overthinking a bit, especially since you're worried about looking like dorks at a concert by dorks for dorks. I say this a TMBG fan, TMBG concert veteran and dork myself. You should also listen to their first two albums, They Might Be Giants and Lincoln, which I think still stand up as pretty darn good, especially the second side (yes, I'm dating myself) of Lincoln.
posted by mollweide at 7:11 AM on February 13, 2008

It's a concert man. Do whatever you want. And especially don't care about what other people think of you (apply this rule to your life too). ;-)
posted by donut at 7:13 AM on February 13, 2008

Over-thinking. TMBG was my first concert many years ago and they're probably the easiest band for a concert N00B.
posted by drezdn at 7:18 AM on February 13, 2008

As someone who's been going to TMBG shows since college (and that was a looooong time ago), I feel especially qualified to answer this.

Don't sweat it! TMBG are a band for and by dorks. So welcome to the club! I am usually surrounded by kids half my age, and once the band starts, I could care less about any self-consciousness I might be feeling. I jump up and down a lot, sing, just have fun. I like to stand close to the action, but you might want to stand toward the back, where it's more open. (This is assuming it's in a general-admission, standing-only space, as opposed to a theater with seats.)

You might want to buy "The Else" since that's the album they're promoting currently. Sure, they'll play lots of older stuff, e.g., "Birdhouse," "Older," "Experimental Film," "Dr. Worm," and "Istanbul."

Have fun!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:18 AM on February 13, 2008

It sounds to me like you're already probably the coolest 2 people who are going to be at this concert. Seriously.

I'm pretty sure everyone at the show will think the same thing.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:21 AM on February 13, 2008

TMBG shows are dorkfests. They're like Mefi meetups, only moreso.

The last show of theirs I was at had lots of kids in attendance. Everyone made room for the shorties up close to the stage, and when the kids started pogoing, so did everyone else. Or maybe it was the other way around. It tends to be a very happy crowd - everyone starts grinning as soon as TMBG takes the stage, and by the end of the night your face will hurt. It's great.

Looks like they don't have any West Coast dates set yet. *cries*
posted by rtha at 7:22 AM on February 13, 2008

You are definitely over-thinking this. TMBG concerts get such a diverse crowd (in every respect) that there is nothing you could possibly do to stand out in a bad way.

They generally still play some kids songs even at the adult shows, maybe 1 or 2. The recent shows have been full of songs from The Else (newest album), so it's probably worth checking that out before you go.

If you want to stand near the front you'll need to get there early-ish, before the openers. People will be jumping around and whatnot, but no moshing or anything that you won't be able to handle. Occasionally there's a conga line, but it's generally optional. :)

Anyways, TMBG shows are just all-around fun. Enjoy it.
posted by rachelv at 7:25 AM on February 13, 2008

Bring a cell phone. Doesn't have to have service, but should have power. There's not a lot of interaction, but if your show is like the last TMBG show I saw, you might want one.
posted by ErWenn at 7:25 AM on February 13, 2008

And this is an 18+ show, so there won't be the kids songs to enjoy I bet.

In 2004, I went to one TMBG show at First Avenue in Minneapolis and two shows promoting their kids books and albums. About half the songs they played at the kids shows were off non-kid albums and about 3-4 songs played at First Ave were off the kid albums.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:27 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: ErWenn - can you explain the cell phone deal? Is it like the 21st-century version of the Zippo lighter during the "awesome" songs?
posted by fijiwriter at 7:42 AM on February 13, 2008

Buy Lincoln. Haven't listened to it in years but still find myself singing Purple Toupee all the time. And concerts are usually more enjoyable when you know more of the songs.
posted by gfrobe at 7:43 AM on February 13, 2008

Don't forget to bring your prosthetic forehead to the show, and don't let Mr. Horrible move your chair.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:48 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

In 2007, I went to a TMBG at First Avenue in Minneapolis. They played nearly every song on The Else, and a few others. I think they played "Clap your Hands."

If you want to know just about every song they'll play, listen to their latest album "The Else" and the collection "Dial-a-song."

Don't worry about it, it'll be sweet.
posted by adamwolf at 8:06 AM on February 13, 2008

15 years ago I had my glasses broken in a mosh pit (in someone else's backpack) while TMBG were playing...but that was at an outdoor all-day festival...and 15 years ago. :)

I imagine it'll be awesomely dorktacular.

In addition to Lincoln, try Apollo 18, btw. (Altho Flood is one of my favorite albums going all the way back to high school.)
posted by epersonae at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2008

My little sister grew up with those guys in Lincoln. She said they were the funniest guys in her grade. They must be turning 48 this year. You're probably too young for that crowd. :-)
posted by thomas144 at 8:15 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

TMBG concerts are dorkfests, so your worry about not standing out is hilarious. I don't know what else would compare. An Elvis Costello concert maybe?

I love the albums, but They've never been terrific live in my experience (three times over a decade or so). Maybe my luck has been poor.
posted by rokusan at 8:18 AM on February 13, 2008

I think on their documentary someone said their biggest fans are ages 14 and 40. I've been to dozens of their shows and I will say that is true and they are the dorkiest around. :)

If you only listen to Flood, don't expect to know too much. They have hundreds of songs and even the worst are unique live. I'd start recommending Lincoln, but then I'd feel like I'm neglecting John Henry, or Factory Showroom or Apollo 18, and then I'd just recommend it all (although I gave up myself after Mink Car).
posted by yeti at 8:25 AM on February 13, 2008

I saw TMBG in a small club about 10 years ago. If I remember correctly, the audience formed a spontaneous conga line at one point, which might be the apex of dorkdom. Relax and have a good time.
posted by bibliowench at 8:39 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Greg Nog - It's all about looking cool!
Seriously, this is more geared for Mrs. Writer to feel a little more comfortable. She's the more symphony/Broadway type, but she's going to humor me and try something different.
posted by fijiwriter at 8:40 AM on February 13, 2008

Also, this page is a list of their downloadable recent concerts. If you click on "download" next to each concert, it will show you the set list from the show, so you can get a sense of what songs they are likely to play.
posted by otolith at 8:57 AM on February 13, 2008

If you can find Gigantic (DVD) it might be worth a watch before you go. An amusing little documentry.
posted by edgeways at 9:16 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: My first TMBG show was 15 years ago; my last (probably my 20th) was a few months ago. I've gone in that time from a snot-nosed kid to wiping my kid's snotty nose. Generally, the shows follow a pretty predictable order.

The superfans - mostly younger, used to be me - line up outside the club well in advance of doors opening. They get in and go straight to the front of the house. A big mass fills up the floor; those folks will stand and sway and bounce and rock out throughout the show. Typically, there are a handful of tables or chairs at the back of the floor. Those will be filled with go-getters who want to be close to the stage but off of the floor. Unless you get there early, you won't get one of those seats. Then there's the rest of the house. If there's a balcony, most of the people up there will be older fans and will sit throughout the show. You can probably get there in the middle of the opening act and still find a seat. The venues TMBG plays are generally small enough that you can sit at the very back of the balcony and still have a good seat.

If you want to rock out and relive your youth, by all means go to the floor, but be prepared to be jostled around and have screaming, bouncing 18 year olds around you. If you want to be as close to the stage as you can but still be comfortable, get there early and try to claim the close seats. If you want to enjoy the music but don't care about where you are, go up to the balcony and find a seat.

The opening bands are generally decent, with some great ones along the way (Lincoln, OK Go, and this last round Oppenheimer was good). They'll play 30-45 minutes, and be gone. Then there will be 20+ minutes or so of preparation for the big show. TMBG will play, then will do one or two encores. Then you go home.

As for must-listen songs, you might like to check out Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants. It's got 50+ songs, nearly all of them great.

Have fun; as everyone else has said you should have no fear about looking dorky. To the contrary, you'll be surprised how old and nerdy the crowd at the rock show is. That's the beauty of TMBG.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:18 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

if you feel like the creepy man on stage is staring into your eyes for the whole show, don't panic. Everyone feels that way.
posted by Acari at 9:37 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

AgentRocket is dead on: young kids up front, and the crowd gets older the further back you go.

Just as a warning, TMBG does occasionally shine a bright light right at the crowd, which can be annoying. And if you want to protect your hearing, bring some earplugs. It does get pretty loud. (I really wanted earplugs last time, and I'm under 30!) And the confetti cannon wakes everybody up (in the days of Factory Showroom, they used to do the confetti cannon 3 or 4 times a show, but at the show I went to in September they did it only once, at the end). If they bring out the horn section, get excited because TMBG with horns is AWESOME and they don't have them very often, so feel special if they do.

Get there early and see Oppenheimer. They are fantastic, and their self-titled album was my favorite album that I bought last year. It's two Irish guys, one on drums and vocals, and one on guitar and vocoder, playing melodic electronic/pop songs. I really enjoyed them.
posted by sarahnade at 9:42 AM on February 13, 2008

I think the Austin show in March is going to put me into the double-digits of TMBG shows I've seen. (I just realized I've been seeing them MORE than half my life now!) As everyone else said, do NOT worry about looking like a dork at the show. There is no way you can out-dork the rest of us. You may be frightened when everyone all around you and all over the venue knows EVERY WORD to EVERY SONG they play, but just relax and go with it. Embrace the dorkiness. I have seen many, many bands, but I have never been among a crowd as great at the crowds at the TMBG shows. I'm very short and I'm always allowed up to the front to see. People are usually polite and hardly ever very drunk or belligerent.

Also, don't be worried if John Linnell (sometimes known as the skinny John or the one who's usually at the keys) doesn't smile, a smile from him during a show is pretty rare, though not as rare as it used to be.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:48 AM on February 13, 2008

Oh! and I meant to say, also: Yes, get The Else, since they will probably be rocking that one pretty hard on this tour, but anything else from their whole oeuvre is fair game, too. I'd recommend Apollo 18 and Lincoln (and all the rest, and Factory Showroom and Mink Car and ... yeah, all of them). But definitely Apollo 18.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:50 AM on February 13, 2008

The key to any gig is simply to find a spot where you feel comfortable and if you find yourself near idiots (Which is rare anywhere, but sadly can happen on occasion), just move somewhere else or ignore them and problem solved.

Avoid taking a big bag or anything that might catch on other people as you move though crowded spaces. Use some common sense, if you're in the middle of a bunch of people dancing wildly and getting knocked about at bit, it might make sense to move to somewhere where things are going a different pace. (Though this is general advice, not specific to TMBG)
posted by paulfreeman at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2008

I'm trying hard to think of advice to give to a TMBG-concert goer, and I've really got nothing. You would have to try really really hard and be very deliberate in order to do something considered even slightly inappropriate.

TMBG shows are where the dorks come out to let loose and have a good time amongst their kin. You'll be able to hug a wall or dance your ass off and still fit in. They only way you could possibly not fit in is to not enjoy yourself, which would be quite a challenge.

Earplugs might be handy though.
posted by Durhey at 11:17 AM on February 13, 2008

But what about the cell phone? I don't get it.
posted by Enroute at 11:32 AM on February 13, 2008

Man, I was having the suckiest week and I feel better just reading this question. TMBG was my first concert - they came to my college and we moshed very dorkily in the orchestra pit and on the auditorium steps, because that was all we had - and they really are the best "intro band" you could possibly have. Mrs. Writer will be fine!
posted by bettafish at 11:49 AM on February 13, 2008

I loved reading all these answers.

Not sure if TMBG still does this, but they used to do one or two encores of non-TMBG songs after they'd left the stage the first time, suggested by the audience. I remember hearing the title song from the musical Oklahoma! and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as encores. So you might be thinking of something to suggest.

Have an awesome time!
posted by homelystar at 1:02 PM on February 13, 2008

I wouldn't worry too much. Tell Mrs Writer to just relax, dress casual, and have a good time.

As Durhey suggests, if you're not used to rock concerts, get a couple pairs of earplugs in case the volume gets to you. But it's hard to imagine a less threatening fan base than the folks at a TMBG show. (Maybe Todd Rundgren fans would be as nerdy and friendly as TMBG fans.) Anyhow, there'll probably be people dressed oddly and almost certainly be people singing along with their most favoritest songs, but they won't care that you aren't.
posted by aught at 1:12 PM on February 13, 2008

I'm going to my first TMBG concert soon too! (3 weeks!!!)
Check out their wiki if you'd like to get more acquainted with their songs.
posted by chara at 1:20 PM on February 13, 2008

I've seen TMBG twice that I can think of, and they were quite different experiences - once was to a crowd of ?around 400, where they were one of at least a couple acts, and it was just the two Johns; the venue was full of people standing around head bopping, really enjoying it but in a kinda low key way, and at the end flansburg said this was the last song, they weren't going to do encores, and to make this clear he broke two guitar strings after the finale. It was a great show, you could hear all the lyrics, very funny banter, etc. More recently I saw them at a venue where they sold out to a crowd of about 2500, and were playing two sets (no opening act). For this one they had a full band (including a brass section for some songs), and it was much more high energy - the theatre had seats but the first thing they said was that everyone better STAND UP! and then they proceeded to rock the freakin house for two hours+ with 3 encores. You could not hear the lyrics as well and there was a lot more light show / stage dazzle stuff going on. It was also a really good show, but a different vibe, though they still got in a lot of funny banter between the songs.

In neither case did anyone notice or care what I was doing, though (except, I suppose, that I would have looked like a killjoy if i'd sat down at the second one). Getting earplugs is a good recommendation, but otherwise, just enjoy yourselves. If it's high energy, they will probably give "instructions" which you can follow to whatever degree (ie, clapping, everyone make some noise, now only women / only men, etc) and if it's a more relaxed atmosphere you can just stand around or sit at a table, have a drink or not, and listen to the music.
posted by mdn at 1:36 PM on February 13, 2008

You will have fun. Smile a lot, be ready for goofiness, be ready for people singing along to songs you don't know. TMBG gets a wide range of ages, so you definitely won't stand out that way.

DO bring earplugs (you can get cheap foam ones at the drugstore, bring a pair for each of you) -- this is true for any rock show, you might end up closer to the amps than you like, and the ear plugs can be the difference between "I'm happy and it's loud in here" and "My head hurts and I want to go home".

Assuming it's a small or medium sized venue, where there will be some dancing, the space will probably get pretty warm -- so dress in layers you can shed, or whatever your personal solution to overheating is.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:07 PM on February 13, 2008

I am a little amused by the "by dorks for dorks" comments; I interviewed John Linnell in '92 and asked him if he thought of himself as a dork. He seemed honestly a little put off by the question and replied, " you?"

(full interview here -- self-link)

Nevertheless, yeah. You'll have fun. Don't worry about being uncool. Post back here and tell us about it.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2008

Im surprised no one has mentioned it (or perhaps they did, and I missed it upon skimming the responses) but one thing TMBG has done over the past decade that I've seen them in concert is they get everyone to conga while playing "No One Knows My Plan". I've played along sometimes, and ignored it others. But chances are, it will happen.

And there's usually confetti. And foam fingers, like at sporting events.

Really, you'll have a wonderful time!!!
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 9:42 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're going to have a great time. I remember going to see them in 1991 or thereabouts; they played "Stump the Band" and I got it into my head that they ought to play the theme from "The Godfather," and after only a little bit of haranguing they put together a very credible rendition of 'Torno a Sorrento.' The closer you are, the better you can figure out things like 'why the hell are they playing Torno a Sorrento'?

Been lots of places in my time; been in a room with 5000 (other) neurologists; been to MIT and Caltech; played Call of Cthulhu under a Harvard dormitory with a bunch of 1500+ SAT ubernerds. But that TMBG concert audience was hands down the dorkiest bunch of dorks I've ever encountered.

It was a blast.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:50 PM on February 13, 2008

You pretty much hit it on the nose, fijiwriter. I have no idea if it's a regular thing for them now, but when I saw them last year, they turned out most of the lights during one song and had everyone open up their phones and hold them up. Pretty cool sight. (I'm fairly sure they're not the first to do it, but it's still pretty spiffy.)

Regarding moshpits: as was pointed out, 15 years ago, they could get pretty rough. But right around that time, John and John started berating their audiences for being too rough, and I think they've been pretty tame since then. "Remember: up and down, not side-to-side."
posted by ErWenn at 7:47 AM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all, for answers, suggestions and so much more. If this question is still open after the concert, I'll post a review and some concert photos (if they allow that) to show off our embraced dorkiness.
posted by fijiwriter at 7:57 AM on February 14, 2008

I saw them on this tour just a couple of weeks ago. There may have been awkward dorks in the audience, but for the life of me I can't remember noticing any.

Don't worry about it. Nobody's watching you!
posted by bink at 8:18 PM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: Wow...what a great show. The wife and I had a great time. Thanks for all the tips, song suggestions and calming our dorky fears.

We didn't take any pictures, but I posted the set-list and funny banter on this Wiki.
posted by fijiwriter at 7:15 AM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

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