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Freemasonry Watch

Concert review: They Might Be Giants

'Closest thing to the Masons that we have in rock music today'

g and compass

Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester, New York

Concert review: They Might Be Giants are wacky, good as ever

May 14, 2007

They Might Be Giants is the closest thing to the Masons that we have in rock music today a society of tune whose members surely recognize each other through secret handshakes and who minutes before this concert met in a nearby basement, chanting in Latin before an altar decorated with burning candles and the skull of the 11th president of the United States.

How else to explain the band's unflagging popularity since 1982 and Saturday night's sellout of 650 non-Buffalo Sabres fans at the German House Theater?

They Might Be Giants appeals to your subversive nature, preferring to release its music through the 1980s and '90s as phone messages on a "Dial-A-Song" line, rather than on radio. They Might Be Giants moved silently along the Information Superhighway, as we called it then.

They were geek rock before Ween. Before Barenaked Ladies. They'd boot 50 Cent outta this band. James Blount? OK, you're in.

This tour is a chance to get the word out on the songs of The Else, the band's new album to be released on iTunes as if it needed to further reinforce that geek image on Tuesday. Traditionalists can get it on CD July 10.

They Might Be Giants certainly laid out lots of new material from the upcoming release on Saturday night, including "Phone Calls From Dead People," in which John Linnell took an actual call from the dead, in this case a woman claiming her name was "Bret Eastman Kodak," who crankily demanded, "PLAY THE OLD SONGS!"

"Birdhouse To Your Soul" was met with an eruption of pogo-dancing joy. John Flansburgh and Linnell, the duo that powers this band, built TMBG on wonderfully catchy melodies to back their often-bizarre lyrics and avant-garde perspective. That hasn't changed. Perhaps the first you noticed this was in 1990 with the insane little rhythmicity called "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)."

They Might Be Giants' obtuse point of view was further illustrated by its choice of an opening act, a vinyl-record deejay geek named Nighttime Gallagher who played spaghetti westerns, James Brown and, in its respectful entirety, Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein."

The occasional appearance of Linnell's accordion, which he unleashed like a bag of gypsy weasels on "Particle Man," is certainly the kind of untraditional rock instrument that goes with They Might Be Giants' untraditional take on pop culture. And the pop culture often isn't the one Flansburgh and Linnell grew up with. After all, neither one ever voted for James K. Polk for president.

It wasn't all whimsy. The band genuinely rocked, and guitarist Dan Miller, who's originally from Rochester, was allowed a few nice, rock-star solos. "Perhaps the greatest guitarist," fellow guitarist Flansburgh gushed appreciatively, "in They Might Be Giants."

Midway through the show, Flansburgh turned his attention to the crowded balcony, speculating that these folks detached from the action, in their seats were perhaps critics writing in their notebooks: "'No.' Next page.... 'No.' Third page, 'Wrong answer.'"

Actually, I was on the floor. And in my book, 'No,' 'no,' 'wrong answer' added up to a very hip, obtuse, educational, rocking good show.

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