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The Navigator

For pure quirky, the 2 Johns are giants

Mainstream success still eludes They Might Be Giants, but fans love the bizarre twists found in the pop gems the two craft.

Published April 28, 2006

You can hear them in the opening credits to the television shows The Daily Show or Malcolm in the Middle. You might remember them from the 1990 hit Birdhouse in Your Soul or have heard their popular rendition of Instanbul (Not Constantinople).

They're John Flansburgh and John Linnell, the two Johns, a.k.a. They Might Be Giants. And to the enormous cult of TMBG fans, they're much more than the quirky-alternative pop-rockers they might seem on first inspection.

The Giants, who perform Tuesday at downtown St. Petersburg's Jannus Landing, have made some of the smartest, catchiest, most enjoyable, most entertaining music you've ever heard.

On the other hand, perhaps you haven't heard. They've never picked up the mainstream success they deserve because just about every perfect pop gem they craft also is infused with a bizarre twist. If you've only heard the singles, you might not know.

And while the Johns' voices have interesting qualities - they alternate lead vocals in fairly equal measure - they're not the kind of voices you'll often hear on Top 40 radio.

I've always thought it would be great if one day a variety of top-notch popular musicians recorded covers of some of the Giants' best tunes. (You see those kinds of projects all the time - "tributes" to bands ranging from the Beatles to Metallica.)

Though the originals are great, I'd be curious to hear the Giants' brilliant songcraft reinterpreted by other talented artists.

For all I know, the Johns might hate that. But maybe I'll get a chance to ask them.

Last week, I joined Times Web editor Steve Spears to co-host the "Stuck in the '80s" podcast. Steve said he's trying to get a special podcast scheduled with the Johns and invited me to sit in if that happens.

So hopefully I'll get the lowdown on how they came up with tunes as well-known as Birdhouse and as obscure as Shoehorn with Teeth.

I've been listening to the Giants since I was a youngster - okay, a teenager, at least - and I've seen them live four times (all four at Jannus, I believe). I'm not sure I've ever had more pure fun at a show. Even if you're not familiar with the band, trust me, you'll have a good time.

One of the Giants' coolest traits is peppering dark, ironic lyrics and themes into tunes that seem entirely upbeat. Check them out through your music provider and you'll see what I mean. Here are a few of my favorite examples, all from among the Giants' most up-tempo, catchiest songs.

Spiraling Shape: This could lead to excellence / Or serious injury / Your terrified screams are inaudible, drowned / In the spiral ahead and consumed in the shape / The spiraling shape will make you go insane

The Bells Are Ringing: A girl with cotton in her ears / Is shielded from the bells' effect / As if by hidden signal, the people turn to face her / One thousand eyes are staring / They pull away her earplugs

Shoehorn with Teeth: He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth / People should get beat up for stating their beliefs / He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth / Because he knows there's no such thing

A little strange coming from the guys who have released not one but two popular and critically acclaimed children's albums? But in another universe, the two Johns really would be giants of the music industry.

As it is, they're more than worth a quick drive across the bay. Have fun and keep the Johns in business.

Rick Gershman can be reached at or (813) 226-3431. His Times blog, The Ill Literate, is at


They Might Be Giants performs at 7 p.m. at Jannus Landing, 16 Second St. N, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Ages 16 and up only. Call 727 896-1244.

[Last modified April 27, 2006, 12:50:11]

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