the loud bassoon concert scene

They Might Be Giants @ A Taste of Randolph, Chicago, USA
9 July 1999

A few years ago They Might Be Giants started playing a song in their live sets called "They Might Be Giants Got Lost" (it appears on their live Severe Tire Damage album), and I can't think of a better way to describe the concert they gave at the mini-"Taste of Chicago" "Taste of Randolph" festival recently.

I hadn't seen them live since the days when they were a pretty sizable attraction at the Taste of Chicago itself (Chicago's biggest summer event), so the change in festival should have given me an idea of how far afield they are of where they once were.

Problematically for Giants, their diehard fans have grown up and now don't listen to as much music as they used to, and with nowhere near the intensity of purpose. TMBG is a quintessential "college band," although I would be curious to see what current collegiate folk think of the band.

Certainly they're not helping their cause by releasing consistently worse albums with every go-round. (Next step – a kid's album. Don't look so surprised.) Perhaps the Johns even recognize the state of things as they are. Perhaps they feel that Barenaked Ladies got, for some reason, what was rightfully their own.

In any event, this show defined AUTOPILOT with song after song of listless playing, punch-the-clock crowd response gimmickry, and thoroughly forced humor that made it impossible to pretend that TMBG are not 40-something dinosaurs themselves now.

As with every TMBG show I've ever seen (I probably saw about ten of 'em between 1990 and 1995), John Flansburgh was the obvious weak link, rendered even more obsolete than before now that they have a second guitarist who can actually play.

The lineup nowadays features the Johns backed by three Dans on guitar, bass, and drums. The loss of the horn section makes every song sound pretty much the same, and to be honest I really wanted to leave about eight songs into the set, but stayed solely to have a complete set list to provide for this review, which will be read by approximately five people other than myself, though I'm not sure I will even reread it, because why would I want to relive the boredom?

The show sucked. There was quite a bit of profanity, which at least was new, if not really funny, and the songs they played were generally ones I either did not want to hear, or ones that I did want to hear but which were so perfunctorily performed as to really sully the memory of the band in its prime.

Further amusement/cringing was to be had by observing the crowd, which was about 1/4 youngsters who were excited about seeing TMBG (God bless 'em) and 3/4 people my age and older trying pathetically to recapture some magic from their high school/college days. You could tell the difference because ONLY the older kids were pogo-ing in true old-school TMBG fashion.

But I'm not saying that's cool, in fact it was pretty sad. Here were a few hundred people who probably dance all of 5 minutes a year trying to unleash something trapped down in their impotent, nerdy corpses by pogo-ing to "Particle Man." No thanks.

The only real highlights were "She's an Angel" (which is always good) and "No One Knows My Plan" (which was a very refreshing choice for the set). Anyway, I'm bored and pissed even wasting this much time talking about this crap. Here's your precious set list. Notice how MANY goddamn songs they played, cripes!

Intro: Gigantor the Space-Age Robot
Sorry I Fucked Up the Show
New York City
Particle Man
She Thinks She's Edith Head
Till My Head Falls Off
Your Racist Friend
James K. Polk
Spy (WAY, WAY, WAY, WAY too much of it, by the way)
Cyclops Rock
Don't Let's Start
TMBG Got Lost (band introductions)
Shoehorn With Teeth
Battle For the Planet of the Apes
It's So Loud in Here
Birdhouse in Your Soul
The Sun
She's Actual Size (WHY?!?!)
Spider (LAME!)
The Guitar
No One Knows My Plan
She's an Angel
The Famous Polka
Doctor Worm/Precious and Few
- - -
Maybe I Know
Spiraling Shape
Istanbul (funny in '90, less so in '99)

Review by Patrick Magnanimous