They Might Be Giants touch a delicate nerve among tough-guy types who resent their innermost nerdish leanings. The guys who would just as soon wear a tutu at a high school kegger as be seen mouthing the words to “Birdhouse in Your Soul” alongside the band geeks huddled in the corner, clamoring over who gets to play the next tape in the ash-flecked stereo. The same tough guys who will later seek furtive nerdification, in those private moments, by giving themselves shampoo mohawks in the shower and busting out air-accordion moves in the full-length mirror.
But for those of us who embrace the nerd within—and, in many cases, are still haunted by altogether too recent photographic evidence of explicitly outward nerdhood—TMBG have scored some of our most awkward but, yes, triumphant moments. I’m listening to “Ana Ng” right now, as a matter of fact, and it whisks me right back to a time when striking a socially acceptable balance between “rocking out,” in the parlance of the day, and chairing the physics club was an unattainable goal. From my first summer job, driving a furniture truck with a Southern yahoo who actually threw my copy of Lincoln out the window, to trying to lose my virginity and just being generally wracked by those growing pains, They Might Be Giants has always been there for me. Even if I occasionally had to buy the same tape twice.
TMBG’s two Johns—Linnell and Flansburgh—have been recording together since 1982, originally using a drum machine and releasing their songs via Flansburgh’s answering machine, before signing to the independent Bar/None label for their self-titled debut album. This, you have to remember, was a time when the term “college rock” was still a fairly apt term for the jangly, apoplectic pop flourishing on the margins of mainstream music. Biggie label Elektra took a chance on the band after the underground success of their Lincoln LP—which boasts arguably the densest thicket of nerd anthems in the TMBG discography— and the result was 1990’s Flood, an album which eventually went platinum and cinched the band’s eight-year run on that label.
The latter Elektra years were rather lean for the band, and the label eventually dumped them. But as the high school misfits of yesteryear move into high-powered positions in the entertainment industry, the band is enjoying a resurgence of popularity—they even wrote the “Dr. Evil” theme for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
They Might Be Giants play their second-ever show in Missoula this Sunday. I’ll be the one trying to get them to sign my physics club T-shirt.
TMBG with special guests You Were Spiraling, appear live in concert Sunday, Oct. 3 in UM’s University Theatre at 8 p.m. Tickets $18 general, $16 students. Call 1-888-MONTANA.