They Might Be Giants Kicks Off 3-Night Twin Cities Stint With Carefree And Perfect Sold-Out Show at First Avenue


There I was. Standing behind the drum riser on the legendary main stage of First Avenue with my camera in hand and sweat rolling down my back. I could feel my entire face turn a bright shade of red as I tried to get some shots of the band with the crowd in the background without making any big moves as if to not distract from the band that was performing. I have been to this legendary club more times than I can count at this point, but this was my first time on the stage. I was on the stage in front of a sold-out crowd, and my nerves were out of control, but it was indeed one of those moments I will never forget. But how did I get there?

They Might Be Giants is a household name without being one. What I mean by that is that I feel like everyone has at least heard this group’s name through all of the pop culture references and their lengthy discography, but not many people really latch onto this band. That’s what I thought before I walked into First Avenue on Friday night to find an utterly sold-out room full of people who were all chatting about how they hadn’t seen this band since 1989. Okay, that was only one person who said that as I was waiting to get checked into the show, but I had to bite my tongue not to say, “89? That’s the year I was born!” in an unsolicited response. But this little moment before I even got into the room really laid the stage for the night. People were excited. They were ready for a night of nostalgia and fun, and although I knew very little about this band walking into the show other than their name, it was impossible not to get wrapped up in the excitement.

They Might Be Giants started in Brooklyn, New York in 1982. At the beginning of their existence, TMBG performed as a duo, but as time has passed, this band has grown to a truly larger-than-life line-up consisting of everything from your standard rock band instrumentation to a full horn section (which was one of my favorite things on Friday night). Stylistically, it would be easiest to call TMBG an alt-rock band, but saying that isn’t enough. Some of their songs have a true groove behind them. Others have a more folksy influence that comes through in the lyrics that, at times, leap into a more campy and humorous world.

Let’s dig into that side of this band– the humor. Right off the bat, the group’s vocalist and guitarist, John Flansburgh, started throwing out everything from cheesy jokes to self-deprecating quips that would last throughout the lengthy twenty-nine-song set. “These little comments and nods let the personality of this band shine. “We’re going to play some songs off of ‘Apollo 18,'” John stated to the crowd. This got a huge reaction of applause and excitement, but he went on to say that they were only going to play the songs that everyone hated from that album. Although that wasn’t true, and they went on to play banger after banger (at least that’s what I suspected with the way that audience was responding to every song, I loved this moment of playful banter, and it instantly had me loving this band that I knew so very little about just moments prior.

The crazy thing about this band is that they have twenty-three albums out there, along with a smattering of other releases. There’s no way that every song they played was what the audience wanted to hear, yet every song was met with a roar of applause from the older audience. It instantly became clear to me that TMBG is one of those bands that has a cult-like following. They could have gotten up on stage and played through the five children’s albums that they have out there, and they would have gotten the same response. People were clearly just excited to see this legendary band on a legendary stage, and by the end of the night, I understood it.

Another crazy thing is that this show, and the two following shows that this band has in town on Saturday and Sunday night, was just this band. There were no openers, and, other than a few breaks in the set, really no break from the onslaught of TMBG songs. I see a lot of music, and it’s rare that I see a band play for as long as TMBG does. It’s also rare that a band that plays such a lengthy set can keep me captivated and stuck in their world for so long, but TMBG did it effortlessly. I may not have been able to sing along to the songs like those around me, but that didn’t stop me from feeling a sense of thrill from every new song that started to play from the speakers.

So, let’s go back to how I got on stage. Classic photographer rules are three songs. We get three songs from the photo pit (the section of the floor, typically between the stage and a barrier) to get our photos. After those three songs, we are to leave and go be part of the audience. I love this because it means I can’t be glued to my camera for a whole show, but, at the same time, having only three songs sometimes isn’t long enough. It definitely wasn’t long enough for TMBG, as this is a huge band with a lot of personality to capture, and the first three songs of their set on Friday night seemed all too short. That being said, as they wrapped up the third song, my fellow photographers and I started heading out before we were stopped by John Flansburgh. He told us to go the other way and come on up on stage to get some crowd shots. I hesitated. Personally, I didn’t want to go up there because– anxiety but I was really given no choice so the two other photographers and I went up on the stage, positioned ourselves behind the drum riser, and started shooting.

Honestly, it was one of those moments that I wish I had been a bit more prepared for because, truthfully, very few of my photos from the stage turned out the way I wanted them to. That being said, it was a true honor to spend some time on such a legendary stage with such a famed band. On top of that, Friday night was just one of those super fun and perfect kind of nights with an amazing soundtrack and an amazing feeling in the air.