They Might Be Giants rock the Variety

Live Review: They Might Be Giants and Jonathan Coulton at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 2/10/12

In the first of a two-night sold out weekend at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, They Might Be Giants took a well-deserved break from the “family” shows. Don’t misunderstand, the typical family show takes place at 2:00PM on a Saturday afternoon, and is filled with gems from the TMBG kid-era No! and the Here Comes series (the ABCs, the 123s, Science). These back-to-normal regular shows are all rock and grown-up talk. Originally a duo with John Linnell and John Flansburgh gracing small stages in the mid- to late-eighties with a guitar, an accordian and a drum machine, the Two Johns now have a phenomenol backing band that really know how to rock.

The evening was filled with 25 years of TMBG hits, but especially songs from the latest 18-track release Join Us (Idlewild Records). From that, “Can’t Keep Johnny Down,” “You Probably Get That A Lot,” “Old Pine Box,” “Celebration” and “When Will You Die” were standouts. They have brought back some of that early sound that made them famous in the fist place (catchy, quirky, hooky and fun).

Interspersed between songs were the Avatars of They (John and John’s alter-egos in puppet form). The two sock puppets are able to say inappropriate things and get all political but it’s okay. They’re only puppets. The crowd was also part of the show, as when they were divided down the middle by a spotlight from the stage to the balcony. Stage left was apes, while stage right was people. Each side competed by raising fists in the air and screaming. People won.

From the old stuff, fans heard “Subliminal,” “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” “Snowball In Hell,” “Cowtown,” “James K. Polk,” “Particle Man,” “The Guitar” and “Fingertips.” Two encores included “Doctor Worm” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” among others. The band is rounded out by Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf and power drummer Marty Beller. These three guys complete TMBG. The Two Johns have come along way since the drum machine days. This is an excellent band.

The opening act was Jonathan Coulton (“and the Coultoneers”), a trio assembled not unlike the Giants (quirky, poppy melodies with smart and witty lyrics). Coulton played much of his recent release Artificial Heart (Jocoserious Records), plus fan favorites “Code Monkey” and “Still Alive.” But it was “Re: Your Brains” that really got the crowd involved. The song is about a poor schlub who becomes a zombie and now wants to return to work. The audience quickly learned the chorus (“All we want to do is eat your brains”) and Coulton filled in the rest of the song with hilarious lyrics (“We’re not unreasonable, I mean no one’s gonna eat your eyes”). It’s an instant classic and possibly the most memorable song of the entire evening.

Look for both on tour and enjoy great music and videos at and/or


They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh and John Linnell have tapped into a new niche audience: kids. Since their inception in 1982, they’ve hit the bullseye with quirky melodies and intelligent – sometimes too intelligent – lyrics that continue to thrill fans. In the past few years, however, the Giants have sneakily infused a kid-friendly song into an album here and there. With a successful outcome, they decided to make it official.

2002’s No! was their first fulltime foray down this road less traveled. And it was a huge hit. Followed by Here Come the ABCs, Here Come the 123s, and Here Comes Science, the two Johns have created an alternate career for themselves. With songs that even parents find catchy, this seems to be long from ending.

Be sure to catch a TMBG show near you – kids or not. You can find their tour dates are other quirky things at

93. THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, 1986 (out of order)

Location: The Lone Star, Kansas City, MO
Supporting Act(s): ?
In the Company of: Britt E.

Just recollected that I was at this show…sometime in 1986? Probably a small cover charge at this now defunct club in Kansas City’s Westport district (meaning NO ticket stub!). I had recently seen TMBG’s new video – and their very first single – “Don’t Let’s Start” on MTV. Very cool video and a great song (“When you are alone you are the cat you are the phone you are an animal / The words I’m singing now mean nothing more than meow to an animal / Wake up smell the cat food in your bank account / Don’t try to stop the tail that wags the hound”…this may make more sense if you heard it). I quite possibly purchased their first CD at this show for under $10.

Other gems may have included, “Hide Away Folk Family,” “She’s A Hotel Detective,” “32 Footsteps,” “Boat Of Car,” and many more!

This was probably the two Johns’ (Finnell and Lansburgh) first trip to KC from NY. It was just the two of them and a drum machine. Guitars, accordians, and several other instruments were played that evening. It was loud and the crowd loved it.


Location: The Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
Supporting Act(s): none
In the Company of: Mi Familia

One look at the crowd on this Saturday afternoon inside Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse would convince an onlooker that Barney was in town. Or the Wiggles. This could not be further from the truth. It was a special family show presented by the quirky
alternative rock group straight outta Brooklyn called They Might Be Giants.

Although John Flansburgh and John Linnell never expected to have such a young cult following during their formation back in the early eighties, it has happened. With a one-off, just-for-fun project in 2002 entitled “No!” they reached a demographic that very few rock groups ever consider reaching: the toddler to pre-teen crowd. TMBG pioneered the Dial-A-Song self-promotion in which listeners would call a number and hear a different song each time. This before any record deal was struck.

Since “No!” was released, TMBG has released two additional kid-oriented CD/DVD packages entitled “Here Come the ABCs” and “Here Come the 123s.” Both have made the two Johns much richer and brought intelligent, grown-up style rock to the little people.

When attending a great concert, it is usually required to stand in order to see over the crowd in front. This was especially true due to the dozens of dads with kids on their shoulders. It was a sight to see and hear, with parents joyfully singing along to the same songs as their young-uns. In this election year, a truly bipartisan experience was unfolding.

Other songs which were aimed directly at the underage crowd were, “No!” “In The Middle, In The Middle, In The Middle,” and “I Am Not Your Broom,” accompanied by the comedy stylings of Homestar the puppet. TMBG also rocked out with “Alphabet of Nations,” “E Eats Everything,” and the awesome “Robot Parade.”

They also reached back into the stuff that made them famous which was a grand treat for all the parents. Songs like, “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” “Boss of Me” (better known as the theme from the TV show “Malcolm in the Middle”), and “Particle Man.” The band’s transition from adult alternative to accessible kids was not such a stretch. It was possibly brought about by their educationally-tinged material, which luckily was played at the show. Along with “Alphabet Of Nations,” they included the rocking “Why Does The Sun Shine? (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas)” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” as the closer.

Towards the end of the performance, John and/or John informed the crowd that they were going to play their favorite song. It was “Doctor Worm,” a great selection that can hold its own against most pop songs out there. Another great one from the vault was the raucous, accordian-lead instrumental “The Famous Polka.”

Parents spend a lifetime trying to acquire and maintain that special bond with their children. An experience like a They Might Be Giants show is a perfect way to do it.