Stage Dive 

They Might Be Giants give new SoBro series needed warmth

They Might Be Giants give new SoBro series needed warmth

They Might Be Giants

July 23 at SoBro Summer Nights

A half-lit parking lot between 2nd and 3rd Avenues across from Bluesboro now serves as the site of yet another summer concert series, SoBro Summer Nights—a Friday-night attraction intended to boost downtown attendance and complement Dancin' in the District across the river. The first show was fun, and the crowd gave off an easy-going vibe you don't get at some other outdoor shows. Unlike the others, though, SoBro Summer Nights lacks some vital ingredient that makes it more than just a concert in a parking lot. There were no cheesy emcees or funnel cakes for sale or goofy contests, to be sure—but there was no brand recognition either. It was a subdued kick-off.

Easy, well-lit access to the lot seems to have eluded the concert's planners. With construction at the 2nd Avenue entrance, concertgoers were forced to park on either dim, creepy 3rd Avenue, a $5 parking lot, or on the construction site directly behind the lot. Nowhere were signs to the entrance. Once inside the fenced-off lot, alcohol vendors filled the right side of the stage, but the lot's back third was strangely void of booths and lighting. Parallel to the stage, a row of Porta-Potties ominously lined the back of the lot.

Nevertheless, a mix of faithful late-20s hippies and stoic tattooed geeks moved in while hopeful young children and their obliging parents looked on through the fence. While the series' first headliner, They Might Be Giants, has been making music for 20 years, they've produced a lot of children's music and connected with a young new audience, which made the 18+ age limit puzzling. Even so, their enthusiastic banter, spotlight play and confetti brought some needed humanity to what TMBG guitarist-singer John Flansburgh called the "rock 'n' roll parking lot."

TMBG opened its set of wacky, whimsical pop with selections from the new album The Spine—or, as keyboardist-accordionist-singer John Linnell described them, "vertebra." The duo expertly mixed crowd favorites like "Don't Let's Start" and "Birdhouse in Your Soul" with quirky new ready-mades like the stand-out "Bastard Wants To Hit Me," alternating math-nerd polka melodies with rather credible stabs at arena rock. Linnell's nasal voice came through clearly—good news for an act whose calling card remains their profoundly absurd turns of phrase.

Perhaps because TMBG's loyal fans long ago gave up on looking cool, the audience was blessedly free of Nashville's usual crossed-armed, non-moving, we-dare-you-to-entertain-us hipsters. The crowd happily complied with Flansburgh's many directions, dancing when he told them to dance, screaming when he told them to scream. When he told them to put their arms in the air and sway back and forth, they did. And after several minutes of direction, when he told them to do the wave—they did it! What a pleasure to see Nashville drop its cred defenses for once and actually respond.

Flansburgh noted the absence of barricades around the stage—a result of the end of the mosh-pit phase and the band's trust in its audience. No sooner had he spoken, though, than a dazed fan sporting a Bad Religion T-shirt materialized on stage, bent on commandeering the mic. Just as he reached it, the bass player stepped out from behind Linnell and shoved the guy offstage to the ground. Everything turned to slow motion. "What just happened here?" Flansburgh asked, speaking pretty much for everyone. He went on to chide the work of the "security" guards, and suggested to the audience that this one bizarre incident would not affect the 95.5 percent of the show that went normally.

At the end of the show—before two seemingly prepared encores—Flansburgh thanked the spotlight operators and asked them to shine their spotlights on each other. As They Might Be Giants literally sang thanks to the cowering technicians, the awkward but endearing gesture typified their generosity as performers and crystallized their kooky lovability. It was as close to intimacy as you're likely to get in a Nashville parking lot.

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