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Gigantic (2002)

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 08/13/02 11:24:17

"Make a Little Birdhouse In Your Soul"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

They Might Be Giants are one of those bands that almost everyone has some relationship with. Flood took the world by storm and its catchy anthems gave voice to a generation of social concern and liberalism. They Might Be Giants, fronted by the two Johns, John Flansburgh and John Linnel began its life in the Pyramid Club in the East Village – the bohemian enclave of New York where the Ramones, Blondie, Dee-Lite and Madonna all passed through at some important point in their career.

They Might Be Giants perfected the art of being oblique and eventually packed arenas. Their public presence waned a little but they continued with their music and are currently touring their latest, No!, a 17 track children’s album. Gigantic tells the story of the creative partnership that is They Might Be Giants and reflects on the place The Giants have had in the lives of their fans and in the context of a dada-ist, socially critical, tradition in American culture.

The documentary strings together performance footage, interviews with the two Johns, cultural commentator Ira Glass and celebrities such as Janeane Garofolo and Conan O’Brian. Flansburgh is happy with the documentary but he feels it lacks the all important footage of between song banter. Director AJ Schnack, a music video director who has worked with bands like Blink 182, had a wealth of material to work and edited all the footage and interviews into a compelling story about the band, leaving out material about their private lives, which Flansburgh called, “your standard domestic fare.”

The film was born out of a friendship between Shcnack, 32, and the two Johns. Shcnack proposed the idea and the Johns decided, "Okay."

"It’s not a movie that we would have made at all. Its not our style at all as a band. We would never tell our story. I didn’t know if we would know how to tell our story. We are more like big fat lie storytellers then getting down the real truth kind of storytellers. I have nothing against telling the truth, its just been a stranger for so long," said Flansburgh. And then he added, "We’re song writers, we like making stuff. Most of our creativity is invested in abstract ideas."

I forgot how much I liked the band until I saw the documentary and I was fascinated by their early performances. They would pack a tiny, illegal nightclub/bar in the East Village and the New York avante-garde would come out in force. They ran a dial-a-song service which they advertised in the back of the Village Voice and you could call, hear a song created perhaps just that morning and find out when the next show was. The Giants still run Dial-A-Song. Call 718-387-6962. You might get a busy signal but rest assured, there IS a little machine at the other end that will pick up and play a song.

Bands just seem to come out of nowhere by the time they hit the charts and the get all cleaned up for mass consumption but there was a time when two people came together with just an idea to do something. The peculiar chemistry of the two Johns has yielded an increasingly dynamic working team and produced some of the best pop music of our time.

The influence of the Giants is pernicious. If you aren’t hearing their songs, you are hearing their music in the theme of “Americas Most Wanted” , “The Daily Show”, ABC’s “Nightline Primetime” and even a Dr.Pepper commercial. They are also featured in the companion CD to the much overlooked but well worth the effort to locate for people with a literary sweet tooth, McSweeney’s Literary Journal – Art and Music Issue #6.

The Giants notorious love of coffee and their creative philosophy, which they vehemently deny even having because their unique sound and lyrics are just the accident of their temperaments broiling under the hot sun of a mutual passion, are featured along with a lot of head scratching about the magic of their performances and the importance of songs like “Your Racist Friend” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”

Flansburgh calls his success “modest” which must mean that he’s not a bazillionaire like Bono but they recently won an Emmy (not a Grammy) for the theme song of Malcolm in The Middle. AND they are sending out their secret subliminal messages of love and understanding through the convenient vehicle of a soda-pop commercial. As Mr.Burns might say, “Excellent. The plan is working perfectly.” They Might Be Giants will be featured on Conan O’Brian Wednesday, August 13th.

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