The life and times of Zack Weinberg.
Wednesday, 17 July 2002
# 7:45 PM
Last night I went to see They Might Be Giants at the Fillmore Theater in San Francisco. This is only the second time I've seen a live rock concert in a nightclub (the first being Blue Öyster Cult at the now-defunct club on California Avenue in Palo Alto). It is definitely a different experience from a concert in an auditorium; since I've now seen TMBG in both kinds of venue, I can make a comparison eliminating other variables.
The basic difference: In a nightclub, one stands up on a dance floor, fairly close to the performers, who are on a stage elevated about five feet; so you're looking up at them, across other people's heads. In an auditorium, one is assigned a seat which is likely to be above the level of the stage; you're looking down at the performers. Unless you paid an awful lot of money, also, you are far away from the stage. The presence of a seat doesn't make an awful lot of difference; I have never been to a rock concert where anyone bothered sitting down through the entire show. (However, a dance floor is designed with the expectation that people will stand, and even jump up and down, on it; therefore it is more pleasant to stand on than an auditorium floor, which may well be thin carpet over concrete.)
Since you are much closer to the performers in a nightclub, the performance is much louder. I neglected to bring earplugs, and regretted it throughout. It was simultaneously easier and harder to see what was going on on stage; the Johns were closer and much more visible, but the sight lines made the backup band (all of whom are named Dan) very hard to see. I spent a lot of time jostling for positions with sight lines unblocked by tall people's heads.
At a nightclub, the lights are set up to be played over the audience as well as the band; they usually don't bother doing that at an auditorium. TMBG used this effectively, as part of their usual tactics to make the audience participate in the show. However, I do not like having 1000-watt stage lights shone directly into my eyes, especially when they've just been adapted to seeing the inside of a dark nightclub.
The show itself was superb. It took them awhile to click with the audience, which is my only complaint. In particular, I think Birdhouse In Your Soul works much better played as a closing number (which is what they did last time I saw them) than as third in set (this time). But they were not pressured into playing Spider which they don't like anymore, and they clearly did enjoy everything that they did do. Including Fingertips. Bet you didn't know it was possible to do Fingertips live. They repeated the dial-a-drum-solo joke in the middle of She's Actual Size, to good effect (well, the drummer was expecting to be asked to do Animal this time; he got this wonderful deer-in-headlights look last time).
One somewhat disappointing thing about going to see TMBG is that they never play all the songs I'm hoping they'll play. This time, it was Spiraling Shape they didn't get to; last time, I Should Be Allowed to Think. But the list of songs I wish they would get to is just endless: Ana Ng, The Bells Are Ringing, Turn Around, Wikkid Little Critta, Dirt Bike, The End of the Tour... So it's not exactly fair for me to complain, especially since they do always play something I wasn't expecting to hear, and it is good. (Robot Parade and How Can I Sing like a Girl, this time.)
The opening act was Noe Venable, a local musician playing solo. She was great too; good music, solid stage presence, knew how to work the audience (not quite as well as John Flansburgh, but then friggin' Bono isn't as good at working the audience as John Flansburgh — admittedly, this is not a fair comparison, Bono has to work an audience at least an order of magnitude bigger). I think she's going places.