Friday, July 29, 2011

Oppressive Heat, They Might Be Giants, and That Guy

When I heard that They Might Giants were kicking off their tour in support of their fantastic new album Join Us right here in Lancaster, PA, at The Chameleon, it was simply a given that I would be there.  This was the third time I've seen the two Johns. First time was in 1986 in Richmond, VA, at a nifty little club called Rockitz; second time was here at The Chameleon in 1996, so I was five years overdue this time around.

Here in the Northeast we've been having an ungodly heatwave, coupled with oppressive humidity which combine to make it feel like we're breaking three digits on the thermometer daily; yesterday was no different.  This made waiting for the doors to open - normally an enjoyable process where you get to meet some folks in line, maybe see old friends who haven't been in town since the last show, etc. - a chore to be despised.  The Chameleon's entrance leads into a small cattle-chute area where, depending on whether you already have your ticket or not, you are herded through mazes to either the ticket booth/will-call window or the main door.  This area fills up fast, and then the lines trail out the door and down the block.  Fairly typical club stuff.

On this night, however, the heat and humidity and crowd of people sent the temperature in the cattle-chute area soaring.  We were all quickly drenched with sweat and the place developed a mild high school gym locker room aroma.  Not too worry, though - it was about 5:45 and doors were announced as opening at 6:00.  Right....

6:00 came and people were still piling in. people began grumbling.  At 6:20 someone pounded on the club door, which opened just a crack.  When someone yelled "When are you letting us in?!?" the meek reply was only, "Soon," as the door slammed shut again.  They finally let us in just before 6:30, and it was good that they did. Had they waited much longer, they may have seriously had a riot on their hands - people were NOT happy.

Thankfully, the club was air conditioned, and at first felt about 20 degrees cooler.  A couple cold beers helped as well, and the space in front of the stage began to fill.  Before long, the body heat from the growing crowd overtook the A/C, and once again The Chameleon lived up to and beyond the nickname friends and I had given it years ago: The Sweatbox.

All was made right again, however, when TMBG hit the stage and launched into "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head," which not only is one of their classics, but also turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing, as we were actually treated to a puppet show by John & John in the guise of The Avatars of They, two goofy green sock puppets who "covered" TMBG's "Spoiler Alert" (from the new album).

Their set was fantastic, and was a well-balanced diet of material from the new album (including their first-time performance of "When Will You Die?") and fan favorites spanning their 25+ year career ("Doctor Worm," "We're The Replacements," "Birdhouse In Your Soul," etc.)  Flansburgh and Linnell were hilarious as usual in their between-song patter, in turns complaining about the "oppressive lack of oxygen" in the club, musing about appearing on the Jimmy Fallon show with Fran Liebowitz, and wondering aloud whether the crowd would just be randomly screaming at anything they said.  The band sounded great, with only a few missteps here and there (but again, it was the first show of the tour - cut them some slack!).  Marty Beller on drums, who John Flansburgh repeatedly introduced early on, was excellent; Danny Weinkauf and Dan Miller alternated various instruments as did Linnell and Flansburgh, with everyone taking their turn at keyboards ("We're sort of like Genesis - everyone plays keyboards," noted John Linnell).

It seems that every show you go to has a character I have come to refer to as "That Guy."  That Guy is usually there by himself, or maybe one friend.  That Guy is also exponentially drunker than anyone else in the club, but he is not an innocuous drunk.  No, That Guy is an asshole, yet usually oblivious to the fact that he is ruining other people's good times.  Last night, That Guy showed up about two-thirds of the way through the show.  I felt someone bump into me heavily, turned and saw a ratty looking guy with grungy hair, bad tattoos, and a marked inability to stand up straight.  He positioned himself just behind me, and proceeded to randomly yell out song lyrics, curse words, and assorted "yeahs" and "rock ons."  Carrying his beer bottle like a torch and swaying like a madman, he yelled at the band (who mockingly dismissed him) and knocked into anyone around him.  As is usually the case with That Guy, it was only a matter of time before he made his big move.

It came the moment TMBG finished their main set and left the stage.  Suddenly, That Guy threw himself bodily toward the stage, bowling over two young women and yanking a live microphone down on top of himself and others.  Immediately, he was swarmed by people nearest him while others yelled for club security.  Despite having three or four people now holding him, he lunged at the stage again, appearing to try to pull the keyboards down as well.  By now, a very large bouncer was making his way toward the action.  Not to be deterred, That Guy made a final push and grabbed his prize: the set list that John Linnell had been using which was on the keyboard.  In that same moment, the bouncer cinched him into a half-nelson and dragged him out of the crowd to a round of applause.  A moment later, the bouncer returned, and was greeted with more applause, which he shrugged off with a "just doing my job" look on his face.  The applause grew louder when a roadie walked on stage and, with a triumphant flourish, produced the retrieved set list and taped it back onto the keyboard.

The band did three encores, including an outstanding run-through of "Istanbul Not Constantinople," and even noted that That Guy was going to "have one hell of a night ahead of him.  We may not be in New York, but we're from New York," Flansburgh smiled.

All in all, a fantastic show.  Check out our Facebook page later today to see more pics from the show. Head over to via the link below and pick up the new album. If you get a chance to see them on this tour, go - you'll be glad you did.  And let me know if you run into That Guy.

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