Sunday, March 1, 2009

They Might Be Giants, Part I: The Concert

My trip to NYC to see TMBG was one of the most fun things I've done in a long time, in part because I got to ride on a train (which I love) and because I got to spend the pre-concert day wandering around the city with a friend I hadn't seen since undergrad. (We got to eat cream puffs at Beard Papa!)

It was nice to have a change of scene, and NYC is always an interesting place even though it doesn't feel home to me the way DC does. (DC is organized and tidy and small-scale and all of the buildings match and it is full of smart, fun-but-socially-reserved introverts. Thus: obviousness.)

So the concert. First of all I'll get the end of the story out of the way and say that it was so much fun and TMBG was so awesome and I want to go again! Now the story from the beginning:

If you remember, my first thought after "ZOMG I have TMBG tickets" was "oh crap, what can I wear so I don't look like a nerd?" I didn't look like a nerd. I mean, maybe I did look like a nerd, but I didn't look any more like a nerd than anyone else there. For some reason I thought the concert would be a hipster thing, and that I would be out of place in my non-skinny jeans and brown felt beret, but the entire audience was made up of nerds.

How nerdy was it? More than one person brought along their own knitting.

It was worse than nerdy. It was uncomfortably nerdy. It was Comic-Con nerdy. It was "oh no, I wonder if I appear as socially awkward as everyone else in this crowd" nerdy. All four Gregs showed up, in their infinite variations, and one of them tried to hit on me by telling me about how the song "Apartment 4," from TMBG's children's album Here Come The 123s, "blew his mind" because it was so much like his life (the song is about a kid who lives in Apartment 4 and wishes the kid in Apartment 2 would come over and play with him).

Another person had brought over a picture of a llama, in the hopes that he could go up to TMBG after the concert and ask them "will you sign my llama picture?" and then TMBG would be struck by the request and decide the phrase was quirky enough to turn into a song, and then he would have influenced a TMBG song. (Maybe the difference between nerds and other people is that while everyone might have a fantasy like that from time to time, nerds not only create a plan to execute said fantasy but also tell the person standing next to them in line about what they're doing and how they hope it will play out.)

Once the concert itself started, all of the crowd's awkwardness melted away and we became a giant group of sing-along fans. This, after all, was the band who wrote a song with the lyric:

There's only one thing I know how to do well
And I've often been told that you only can do what you know how to do well
And that's be you
Be what you're like
Be like yourself.

So there we were, all being ourselves, non-skinny jeans and llama pictures and knitting and all.

It was really fun. The whole concept of giving fans who have memorized an entire album exactly what they want--the opportunity to sing along with the entire album, in sequence--was brilliant. (Yes, I only heard this album for the first time last week--but I was able to memorize most of it in time so I could sing along too.) What was great was that most of the crowd had decent voices and half of us automatically took the harmony parts.

I only have one real regret, and it's this: the venue was set up so that we were all standing in front of the stage, and because of the architecture of the room there was this three-foot-wide load-bearing post in the middle of the space, and so everyone behind a certain point could really only see half of the band at any one time. So I spent most of the concert watching Flans and trying, during the between-songs bits, to push my way up a little closer. It took me three-fourths of the album to get close enough to see both Flans and Linnell and it was suddenly like the whole thing burst into stereo. (This may have had more to do with speaker positioning than anything else.) It was a shame I couldn't have been that close the entire time.

At a certain point I began to wonder exactly how much money the bar was making (or not making) off of this evening, when I realized that--although many people had purchased a drink--this crowd was ridiculously sober. If TMBG had committed to do one show a month at this bar, and the crowd which showed up was made up of nerds who had never jumped on the whole "heavy drinking" bandwagon (it would interfere with the knitting), how could the bar sustain these concerts?

The answer came at precicely 11 p.m., when the show ended and the bouncers told us we had to leave right now. No hanging around to get llama pictures signed, no drinks for the road, we all had to leave. As we were shoved out, we saw a line of people outside the bar, waiting to get in. These people were the kind who wore skinny jeans and tiny skirts and spiky heels and did not bring along their own yarn. The message was clear: after having dealt with the nerds, the bar was now ready to open for real.

So... yeah, it was awesome. Do I want to go back again next month? Absolutely. Do I think I will? Probably not. But it's nice to know that on the last Saturday of every month, a bunch of dorks show up at a bar and sing along with a band that writes songs about geography and history and how the only thing you can ever do in this life is be yourself. ^__^

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