We were told Friday night's show at Exit/In would start promptly at 9:45, so we told our indecisive potential date to enjoy nexting jackers on Chatroulette, or whatever they decided to do, before making our way down to the Rock Block, where we gave our plus-one to a pleasant shaggy-headed fellow who said he used to be a roadie.
When we walked in, Scout Niblett was already singing "Just Do It!" It was just her reedy, spectral voice and a beat-up old Fender Mustang guitar until the drums thwacked and flammed mightily, then fell silent just as suddenly. It was a compelling argument for not playing drums every second of every song the way a lot of bands do, because after long, tense stretches of just singing and guitar, when that snare got to crackin', it felt like our sternum might snap. It was serious. There were some moments when the vocals shot right through our head they were so piercingly loud, but that was a minor complaint. Maybe she had been reading Nashville Cream last week and heard about their upcoming house show here, because Niblett played a Swearing at Motorists cover! If you've ever ordered a deli sandwich or eaten a vegetarian meal in East Nashville, you probably would have recognized someone down in front of the stage.
Speaking of food, it was around this time that a friend of The Spin handed us a shot of something strong and Irish in origin, and as it hit our belly we realized that skipping dinner might not have been the wisest decision of this young weekend. But onward! When Vetiver took to the stage, the crowd had swelled to just the right size — big enough to fill the room but not smothering. Where Niblett had been stormy and intense, Vetiver were cheery and fleet. Even when frontman Andy Cabic was singing that he could never make up for his wrongs, he did so wearing a pleasant grin that said, "Happy to be up here!" (Or maybe it said, "I ate some drugs!" Could go either way — the band is named after a perennial grass, after all.) A friend of The Spin remarked that their set was organized exactly like Bob Dylan's career, which we were afraid meant we had some bad synth and underwear models headed our way, but apparently meant that it started folky, then got electric and eventually kind of funky (but not too funky). Vetiver were tight and bright, and we enjoyed them — especially post-Newport, so to speak.
We also like Caitlin Rose's between-song comedy routine when it's just her with a guitar and some current events up there, but Friday night she was in charge of a full band — and a great-sounding one at that — so her only real nod to stand-up was an impression she did of The Spin. Apparently we sound like a naggy housewife! It's OK, though: Rose and her cohorts layered the room with a rich array of guitar, pedal steel and keys, her distinctive voice spinning tales of New York coin-flips and Shanghai cigarettes. By the end of their set, our dinner-less, whiskey-sloshing gut was in serious need of the carbs and grease our impaired judgment was about to procure, so off we went.
Certain corners of the Internet like to accuse The Spin of being arch-hipsters so convinced of our own coolness that our hair has evolved into a perfect razor-sharp point that we use to gut the less hip and drink their blood in sacrifice to our god, Allan Sherman. What they don't realize is that we are not, in fact, cool. They might be right about the blood sacrifice, but we are stone cold nerds — like, toss-our-20-sided-dice-at-the-drop-of-a-hat type nerds. Anime fans pick on us. That said, Sunday night's sold-out They Might Be Giants show at Exit/In was totally our jam!
For starters, it may have been the best-behaved and organized line for a sold-out show we've seen in ages. We made it inside fast, grabbed a drink and staked out a spot by the stairs. When we had checked the Exit/In's website they didn't have an opener listed, so we were more than pleasantly surprised when Interweb troubadour Jonathan Coulton walked onstage. The Brooklyn-based songwriter and former software engineer very well could have been the headliner, considering the reception that he got. Obviously, this wasn't your typical arms crossed too-cool-for-school Nashville crowd, but we can't remember the last time an opening act got such an overwhelming response.
(For any aspiring First Name Last Names out there: The way to win The Spin's heart is to write songs about cyborgs and zombies and robots and other stuff that's actually important. Also, if you could do something as entertaining as the "Single Ladies"/Super Mario Bros. mash-up during the bridge of "Mr. Fancy Pants" we honestly might care about you. Frank Zappa once asked if humor really belongs in music, and the answer is YES.)
When They Might Be Giants walked onstage we nearly lost our shit — this was supposed to be the show where they played their classic album Flood in its entirety, but they were playing "Subliminal" from John Henry. Dub-tee-eff? The Johns explained that they were doing eight songs before they launched into their most well-loved album — which ruled because we probably would have been a little disappointed if we hadn't heard "James Ensor" (about Belgium's famous painter). Plus, there was a badass version of the succinct, bizarre 21-part sound collage "Fingertips" from Apollo 18.
When TMBG finished their countdown of non-Flood tracks, they threw us another curve ball: They were going to play Flood in sequence, but the sequence was going to be — dun dun DUN — backwards! We'd been listening to this near-perfect piece of pop music in one specific order since Twin Peaks was actually on the air, and now our whole world was gonna get flipped just like that — fuck yeah, TMBG! Way to out-nerd the nerds in the audience. Flood is kinda front-loaded with hits, and the excitement of hearing "Hot Cha" live might have been diminished had it happened later in the night.
Actually, if they had played the album in order so many heads would have exploded during "Birdhouse in Your Soul" that the show would have to be renamed David Cronenberg Presents: Flood, and then we would have spent the rest of the night up to our ankles in blood and skull bits, which would have been a tad uncomfortable and definitely would have ruined our bright white non-slip orthopedic shoes. To say the crowd was enthusiastic is an understatement — we may have worn a prosthetic forehead to a wedding once, but these folks were totally nuts. The dude next to us knew all the words to "Hearing Aid," for crying out loud, possibly the least interesting song on the album. Once the band made it to "Particle Man" we braced for a full-on accordion-fueled nerd riot. Luckily, the band made it through the one-two punch of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Lucky Ball and Chain" without any audience members exploding into clouds of Mountain Dew and Cheetos before wrapping it up with the aforementioned "Birdhouse" and our personal favorite, "Theme From Flood."
Even though we were exhausted from, y'know, actually having a really good time at a show, we stuck around for the double encore, and boy are we glad we did. Nothing stirs our misguided sense of civic pride like the song "James K. Polk," about the nation's 11th president and such a destiny-manifesting prick that we have his portrait hanging above our sacrificial altar at Spin HQ. As an added bonus, second guitarist Dan Miller was playing a Gibson SG Zoot Suit — or as we call it around here, the Beth Cameron Custom. We never thought we'd get so excited about such a silly-looking ax. To close out the night, TMBG performed "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)," climaxing as guitarist John Flansburgh ripped all the strings off his baby blue Telecaster, a perfect ending to a night of sweat-drenched nerd rock glory.
Yeah, we tried calling Dial-a-Song after the show, too. Email some songs about zombies and robots to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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