If you’re a fan of They Might Be Giants, you’ve probably seen that there’s a free download of the band performing their first album live in concert. I understand they did a few shows recently where they performed all of this album, and I saw one where they did all of Flood. There have also been shows featuring Apollo 18 and John Henry in their entirety, but as far as I know they haven’t done any others. While these shows are cool to attend, the thing with a recording of the whole thing is that, if I wanted to listen to all the songs from an album in order, I’d generally just listen to the album. Still, when hearing live versions (or any alternate versions) of familiar songs, it’s interesting to note how they differ from the studio recordings. The most significant change here is that “Toddler Hiway,” performed in character as sock puppets known as the Avatars of They, includes an extra verse. Most of the others are played pretty much as they are on the album, although “Hide Away Folk Family” replaces the spoken part with the audience screaming as if they’re in Hell, and there’s more of the fake backwards singing at the end. John Flansburgh mocks Satanic backmasking rumors by singing “Natas” a few times, although the way he pronounces it isn’t how it would actually sound backwards. During the between-song banter, Flansburgh mentions an early interview where someone asked what “Rabid Child” was about, and he apparently thought the title was self-explanatory. This is pretty common with TMBG, really. Still, I don’t see how “Rabid Child” is particularly confusing as far as TMBG songs go; maybe the interviewer was wondering whether the title character was actually rabid. “Absolutely Bill’s Mood” was dedicated to its namesake Bill Krauss, who apparently attended the show, and John Linnell made a comment about “unless he’s in his mood,” which was funnier to me than it probably should have been.
Since I’m discussing TMBG and watched Meet the Robinsons last night, here’s TMBG performing the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom:
The song was on the soundtrack for the movie, but wasn’t played in the film itself. I’ve only been to a Disney park once, Walt Disney World on my honeymoon, and I actually didn’t go on the Carousel of Progress. I believe Beth did when she went later on. I also understand that one of the rotating walls killed an employee back in 1974, which I can’t say I consider progress.
Speaking of songs about the future, here’s Neko Case and Kelly Hogan singing about a future designed by male nerds contrasted with one created by women in “These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For.” It kind of reminds me of the Futurama episode where it’s revealed that Star Trek would eventually become a religion, and we all know how that turned out.
The Avatars of They compared TMBG’s first album to Camper Van Beethoven at one point, and I wonder if that’s based on any actual reviews. Certainly there are some similarities, and it was through the old tmbg.org FAQ that I first discovered CVB. After a long hiatus, they reunited in the early twenty-first century, and actually just released a new album, El Camino Real.
Intended as the southern California counterpart to their more northern La Costa Perdida, I have to say I find it much more enjoyable than that one. There were a few songs on Costa I really liked, but most of it was forgettable. Camino has several quite catchy numbers, although I think the better ones are clustered toward the beginning of the album. “It Was Like That When I Got Here” and the chorus of “Camp Pendleton” will probably get stuck in my head in the future, and “Sugartown” is a song about a rather unwelcoming community of former fishermen that David Lowery has said is sort of a conglomeration of a few different California neighborhoods. I do have to say that the album lacks the more avant-garde trappings of many of CVB’s records, and I find it pretty similar to the last Cracker album. I guess that, when two active bands or projects have the same lead, they’ll probably eventually bleed together somewhat.
Finally, while not really related to anything else in the post, I just discovered recently that “Mack the Knife” (which I occasionally get mixed up with “Minnie the Moocher”) was originally written in German by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. There’s a recording of Brecht singing it on YouTube.
The song was famously recorded in English by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin, but its main use in popular culture within my lifetime might be McDonald’s Mac Tonight commercials from the late 1980s, starring a jazz singer with a crescent moon for a head. I’m not sure whether he or Grimace has it worse.
Maybe he’s related to John R. Neill’s version of the Man in the Moon from The Little Journeys of Nip and Tuck.