John Linnell Predicts They Might Be Giants' Charlotte Show Will Be "Best Show Ever"

My Q&A with co-founder of TMBG
Photo by Shervin Lainez

The alt-rock pioneers from Brooklyn, They Might Be Giants, have been making great music for 30 years. The guys have lost none of their energy over the years and even have some new material from their new 18-song album Join Us to accompany their hits from back in the day. John Linnell, one of the founding members of the band, spoke to us about their Feb 14 Charlotte show at McGlohon Theatre. Details

Revue: “Birdhouse in Your Soul” may be in my Top 10 favorite pop songs ever written. Thank you for writing it. Is it like your “Born to  Run”? Do you have to play it in concert or risk a fan revolt?

John Linnell: Thanks. Perhaps it's the Pad Thai on the menu, which the customers will need to fall back on if they're unfamiliar with the Pad Kee Mao. We have played successful shows without including “Birdhouse,” but we don't get to hear all the individual complaints afterwards.

Revue: I saw you perform in D.C. in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and I recall (only vaguely — it was late and I had been drinking) your leading a conga line out of the club and onto the street. Is that a TMBG trademark, or were we just an exceptionally rowdy and willing crowd?

JL: That was a pretty standard feature of our show beginning around 20 years ago. The idea of a couple of uptight guys like us getting the entire audience to do something so physical and goofy is deliciously ironic. We haven't had a good conga line in a while, but I don't think we've done our last one.

Revue: Your “Boss of Me” was the theme song to Malcolm in the Middle. How nice is that for one of your songs, as Nanci Griffith once said, to get up off the couch and go out there and make a living for you? How'd it happen? Did the Malcolm people come find you?

JL: They did. Linwood Boomer, the creator of the show and incidentally the actor who played the blind teacher on Little House on the Prairie called up and asked us for a theme song, which turned out to be the easy part. We ourselves got up off the couch and wrote several seasons of incidental music for the show as well, which was an educational and character-building experience, but harder than the sitting on the couch part.

Revue: How have your live performances changed in these last 20 or 25 years? How has your music changed?

JL: The main difference in the live show is that we stopped using a tape machine for a backup band in 1992 and hired live, fleshy musicians, which is how we've been performing ever since. Aside from that, we're much more relaxed onstage. We were practically having heart attacks when we first started. Someday in the distant future after all the cholesterol adds up, we'll probably go back to that.

Revue: Do you perform any of your children's songs on this tour? Is your concert suitable for kids?

JL: We have specially earmarked shows for kids and other ones that are for 14 or over. We're trying to take the guesswork out for the parents.

Revue: What keeps you excited about making music and about touring after 30 years?

JL: In some peculiar way, I think that we're still searching for the lost chord, which is another way of saying that after writing a thousand songs there is still something left unsaid, and a nagging compulsion to figure out what it is.

Revue: You'll be in Charlotte on Valentine's Day. You're not known for your love ballads, but will you be doing any love songs to mark the occasion?

JL: We probably aren't the first band that many couples look to for their date night, but we have a few songs on the topic of relationships in the set. And we've been pleasantly surprised by the number of times we've heard people propose to their future spouses at the show. More than a few, actually.

Revue: Anything else folks in Charlotte ought to know about TMBG and your stop in Charlotte?

JL: After decades of touring, our live show is teetering on the edge of perfection. I'm predicting that Charlotte will be our best show ever.

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