They Might Be Giants will perform at The Depot (13 N. 400 West) on June 8 at 8 p.m. with alternative folk group Vandaveer.
TMBG started as a duo 30 years ago and expanded to a five-piece live band. "We're essentially an indie band—we've been doing this more or less independently for the entire run," says singer John Linnell. "Friends and people who watch are probably the least interested in the fact that we've won grammies and stuff like that."
TMBG plays a wide range of music, mostly nontraditional pop songs. Their new album, Nanobots, includes songs about grunge warfare and biographies, but also dance and folk songs. "I feel like in a way we've skillfully avoided having to describe what it is we're doing, even to ourselves," Linnell says. "We don't know what it is, but we find that other people recognize it and decide they like it. At this stage, we have this status as just having our own zip-code."
Not only does TMBG have a catalogue with a wide range, but their audience consists of a wide range of people. "We have lots of old people, lots of young people, little kids, urban people, hipsters, people who are just complete loners, people who live out in the sticks—the one thing they all have in common is that they like us," Linnell says. "People think that we are their own personal discovery and that fuels a lot of the intense, cult-like interest that we get."
The two original members, Linnell and John Flansburgh, write all of the songs and try to surprise themselves. "I think that's a really important part of what we're doing—trying not to sound like we know what we're doing," Linnell says. "But I will say that we drink a lot of coffee and that is a major inspiration for us and has been historically."
Linnell says that performing is ultimately about entertaining the crowd. "We're not playing jazz up there; it is a very upbeat and fun show. There's a lot of chit-chat just to keep things loose." There is also an entire section with puppets. "We started doing kids' shows about 10 years ago and we found out very quickly that adults like puppets just as much or more as kids, so we've incorporated the puppet show into the grown-up performance, which is fun because the puppets get to swear and stuff like that."
This concert tour is to support their new album Nanobots and consists of shows in Australia, the US and Europe.
They have visited SLC several times since 1989. "We draw a great crowd [in SLC]," Linnell says. "I think you seemed very culturally other the first time we went 'cause we're these lifetime New Yorkers and then we realized that it's just as much of a complicated culture as anywhere else."
The concert on June 8 will be a mix of new and old: Some songs from the new album, some that people identify with the group and some "from the deep catalogue that the die-hard cult members are excited about hearing because there's incredibly obscure songs in our catalogue," Linnell says.
If you enjoy the concert, TMBG now has their own IPhone app for listening exclusively to their music. It is modeled after their Dial-A-Phone, created about 25 years ago. "It was a phone that you'd call up, obviously before the Internet—part of the novelty of it was that you could sit at home and listen to our music without listening to a CD or having to leave for any reason," Linnell says. This invention worked well until the Internet took off, so the band is now adapting. The app is new this year and was recently added to the Android market.
Tickets in advance are $20 and $25 at the door.