They Might Be Giants

John Flansburgh and John Linnell have spent the last 15 years making people laugh at their own inside jokes–now that’s talent. They succeed in part because they’ve managed to bring their audience into their inner circle, with gimmicks like Dial a Song (now at and a good-looking Web site stocked with band history, word games, and pithy advice for aspiring musicians (“There’s no money above the fifth fret”). But the key is, their tunes are as catchy as Schoolhouse Rock and nearly as educational: love ’em or hate ’em, just try getting “Meet James Ensor,” about the turn-of-the-century Belgian painter and his Christ complex, or “James K. Polk” (“Austere, severe, he held few people dear”) out of your head. Sure, TMBG can write “real” songs (the breakup ditty “Narrow Your Eyes,” from 1992’s Apollo 18, being my favorite), but their forte has always been grad-school class clowning. And whatever the quality of the gags, they’re blessed with perfect timing–refer to the last lone ping of the glockenspiel tribute “Shoehorn With Teeth,” delayed till the final millisecond to squeeze out that final chuckle. Nowhere does this knack pay grander dividends than at one of the geekfests known as a They Might Be Giants concert: though last year’s superb Severe Tire Damage (Restless) does a great job of capturing their live flair, things like the fast-forward version of “Shoehorn” are best experienced shoulder to shoulder with your fellow nerds. On their current tour, in addition to pushing Long Tall Weekend, an MP3-only odds-and-sods collection, TMBG have been airing the contents of their next store-available album: highlights from a recent show included “Cyclops Rock” (“I won’t die / Like Chucky won’t die”) and “She Thinks She’s Edith Head,” about a new wave fan who thinks she’s the Hollywood costume designer “or Helen Gurley Brown / Or some other cultural figure / I don’t know that much about.” Saturday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Catherine McGann.