the loud bassoon concert scene

John Linnell & the Statesmen @ Schuba's, Chicago, USA
5 December 1999

Linnell's set at Schuba's left me in a "state" of shock, so amazing and enjoyable 'twas. The last time I saw him was about six months ago, with fellow John John Flansburgh at the Taste of Randolph festival. That whole affair was mighty pathetic and left a serious bad taste in my mouth regarding They Might Be Giants – almost enough to make me resist the urge to buy Linnell's solo album State Songs when it finally came out. I'd been filibustering vigorously for a Linnell solo album for years, so the fact that I almost didn't even buy the thing should tell you how much They Might Be Giants have come to suck.

I'm glad that I bought the disc, which is utterly fresh and wonderful, and even gladder that I went to see him live. Freed from the shackles of Flansburgh's tyrannical control (purely my fantasia at work there), Linnell looked, for the first time in years, like he was having a good time. Now, I'm not actually expecting a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode on TMBG wherein it's revealed that Flans routinely kept Linnell's best songs off the albums by physically beating him, but I like to entertain that idea anyway. Giving the Johns a Boy George-Jon Moss style creative and personal codependence makes me smirk every time. All that barely-decipherable ranting aside, I gots to say it was great seeing Linnell actually enjoying himself, and furthermore, it was even greater not to have to hear "Particle Man."

Suprisingly, no one even shouted for it. The crowd numbered maybe a hundred or two, obvious true believers, and when Linnell made it clear early on that the band would only be playing songs with states in the titles, they listened. In fact, I'd have to say that, especially for a TMBG-type crowd (think "gifted class," not as a compliment), the audience was remarkably well-behaved and kept the smarm and in-joke shouts to a minimum.

I just wish there hadn't been so many damn tall people there. What's up with that? That one guy was so freakin tall, by jesus, I'd have rent him in two with an official "Highlander" sword if I'd had one (or if he'd brought his)

. Backed by the Statesman (guitar, bass, drums), Linnell played keys and the obilgatory accordion, ripping through a great set that was, by his own admission, every song the band knew. I think they played everything off the State Songs album and then some, including covers of "North to Alaska" by Johnny Horton and "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen (given a surfy, quasi-punky treatment that made it the most unexpected and unpredictable song of the evening). I'd heard they'd been covering "Ohio" by Neil Young, but they didn't do that one.

Linnell was charming and engaging, not openly hostile and apathetic like he was at the Taste of Randoph. The band was decent – drummer was a little choppy, and the guitarist was what my old lady would call "one of them ski-hat types," but they all acquitted themselves admirably, even switching around here and there. None of the songs was drastically different from its album incarnation, but the show was so high-energy and purely pleasing that it was, as Ricki says, "all good."

He opened with my three favorite songs, the poppiest ones ("Songs of the 50 States," the brilliant "South Carolina" and "Maine"), and there were many instances throughout the show where I was reminded just how much certain songs have grown on me.

The set rocked and rollicked, and the crowd was way into it, calling the band back for an encore, which included the actual state song of Maryland (which has the melody of "O Tannenbaum" – must be a Linnell fave, 'coz TMBG recorded that in the original German several years ago). This whole state thing is an inspired project, and was a the fantastic show, almost (I said almost) renewing my faith in white nerd rock shows.

Unfortunately we Chicagoans were not treated to the carousel organ that Linnell used on the CD (and played out with in New York), but it was enough of a treat to see our fave Giant out and about without his drunken abusive father JOHN FLANSBURGH hovering over him, twisting his fragile arm behind his back and screaming "Yes, we WILL play 'Spy' and we will CONTINUE to play 'Spy' until I say so, you fucking wuss! I'm huge!!!!"

Note to John Flansburgh: all comments using your name refer not to you but to the "John Flansburgh" character in my mind – until VH1 proves me right, you MEANIE.

The opening act was some guy with three chords and the truth, who sang some love songs and some kid's songs (the line became blurry after awhile – sadly the kid's songs were by far the better ones). He didn't play long enough for me to hate him, and the crowd certainly ate it up, but it was another instance where an official "Highlander" sword would have come in handy.

Song of the 50 States
South Carolina
North to Alaska
New Hampshire

West Virginia

Review by La Fée