Headliners: They Might Be Giants

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

And for plenty of people between the ages of, oh, three to 12, TMBG is already central to their musical universe, often performing in puppet or animated form.

Whether you call it "kindie" rock, parent-friendly or simply high quality children's songs, John Flansburgh and John Linnell have helped to reshape kids' music. And they didn't mean to.

When TMBG arrived at their 20th anniversary in 2002, the band won a Grammy for "Boss of Me," the "Malcolm in the Middle" theme song, just as the documentary film "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns" hit film festival screens.

"We were at that point in our career when people stop comparing you to other bands and people start being compared to you," says Flansburgh. "We felt like we had earned a specific place in the culture, so we did this kids' album as a way to expand our horizons."

The pair released "No!," a clever, playful record with wildly imaginative songs about things like child-built robots, conniving mice, bedtime marches and talking brooms.

"Then it turned into a really big hit ... and that was the part we were not anticipating," says Flansburgh. "We were introduced into the viral world of parenting - parents started handing it off to one another in the same way that they hand off strollers."

TMBG now has three more albums - "Here Come the ABCs," "Here Come the 123s" (which won a Grammy for best children's album) and most recently, "Here Comes Science," a 17-song trip through topics that seem lofty, like astronomy, biology and ecology, but are executed with humor and wordplay.

But while the band sought fact-checking help from the director of New York's Hall of Science, for the record, Flansburgh insists, "We're not educators - our goals are really just to spark people's imaginations."

On their current tour, TMBG is playing family shows, grown-up rock shows and a few stops where they'll perform their 1990 platinum record, "Flood," in its entirety. With about 80 kids' songs and many more than that in their adult catalog, only a few tunes overlap.

"We do this song called 'Clap Your Hands' for kids," says Flansburgh. "In an adult show, it might as well be called the 'get up off your ass song.' It's the same song performed with a different level of intensity."

Sometimes the puppets from their kids' podcasts also visit grown-up shows with a markedly different sense of humor.

The Columbus show, like many of the family shows on the tour, sold out quickly.

"It's a wonderful thing, and an unexpected way to be part of people's lives," says Flansburgh. "I feel like we've just sort of accidentally fallen into the luckiest place you can be. It's a privilege to be able to have access to kids' musical experience at such a young age - we get to be part of their lives forever."

Kiddie rock: Columbus' own family-friendly music

With a clear nod to Mork from Ork, local kids' rock band the Shazzbots come with an interstellar shtick, cartoon doppelgangers and space suit costumes with a naval influence. They play original songs about bugs, walking chickens and tugboats. Look for the band's "Captain, Captain" (aka Ian Hummel of Poop House Reilly) at the Grandview Public Library in April.

While their sunny acoustic melodies and daydream lyrics are most often played to please adults, the Super Desserts are a band many parents like bringing their kids out to see. The volume is safe, the harmonies are sweet and the vibe is resolutely cheerful. Periodically, the band performs shows specifically designed for all ages.

The Jazz Arts Group puts on hour-long Peanut Butter & Jazz concerts, featuring some of the city's best jazz and blues musicians, for parents and children. Throughout the school year, shows are at the Lincoln Theatre (they just wrapped up this year's season), and summertime brings outdoor shows at the Topiary Garden.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 14

Where: Capitol Theatre, Downtown

Web: theymightbegiants.com