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In the WERS live mix studio, John Flansburgh picks up a wooden microphone case and knocks on it rapidly. “This would make a good snare,” he commented. “Mind if I steal it?”
This is a habit he’s become accustomed to in the thirty years with best friend John Linnell and the cultural anomaly that is They Might Be Giants. From Lincoln, Massachusetts, the Johns met in high school, reunited in Brooklyn several years later and made some of the most intelligent-weird music in New York at the time, peaking with 1990’s platinum album Flood. Fast forward a few decades and They Might Be Giants are one of the few to escape the “nostalgia” label unlike bands emerging around the same time. With three gold children’s albums under their belts and thirteen additional adult studio albums, TMBG had no problem selling out two nights at the Paradise to new and old fans alike.
Linnell fondly remembers going to the Paradise in his teenage years, citing it as the first time he saw AC/DC. “We have a lot of family around here,” he said, “so it’s great to be back.” They’re currently touring in support of Nanobots, a forty-five minute album with twenty-five tracks lodged within, inventing the concept of a micro-song– more than a few of the songs clock in at under a minute.
Flansburgh and Linnell regard this as a creative release rather than a deliberate innovation. “They’re easy to start, you have one idea and you’re kind of done,” Linnell laughs. Flansburgh added, “Everything on the album was a quality, three-minute long song at first. And we were like, that’s kind of too predictable. The miniature songs seemed like an interesting ways to shake things up in terms of the sequence and in term of what you’re expecting.” They compared the micro-songs to ad jingles, allowing a huge burst of energy, production, and words that don’t need to linger on a theme due to its brevity.
On whether they’d be working further in children’s music , Flansburgh seems optimistic. “That looks like it’ll be the new project,” he said, adding that he thinks that children’s music on the whole is too “vitamin-enriched”, and that They Might Be Giants are out to create fun for a kid, not a heavy-handed lesson. “People are really pre-occupied on the idea of kid’s music being good for them…fun is fun.”
While in studio at WERS, They Might Be Giants spanned their career with 90’s song “Glass of Milk” and two new Nanobot tracks, “Tesla” and “Cloissone”. In addition to the tinkling piano, guitar, and vocal harmonies fans have come to expect, their tour drummer made use of a recycling bin in place of a snare and a hollow plastic case as a bass drum, hearkening back to the do-it-yourself movement from which the band was spawned.
Their lyrics are as original and sharp as ever, making them the exception to the nostalgia band rule– They Might Be Giants are building a new army of fans today through parents passing down their favorite Flood tracks to kids recognizing songs from Here Come the ABCs. Flansburgh sums it up their musical mantra up best himself, saying that, “in some ways, what we’re doing is twentieth century and kind of traditional, but we don’t aspire to be traditional, and we don’t want to be predictable.” Thirty years can come and go, but the always fun, ever-changing group is rolling with the punches and still selling out the house.