TMBG Countdown #21: Robot Parade

First Release: TMBG Unlimited (2000)

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

Originally written for graphic design group The Chopping Block, and featuring lyrics (according to the band) that were “inappropriately anti-unicorn,” this song is really best appreciated in both of its two forms. There’s the softer version, found on the band’s first kids’ album, No!, and sometimes performed live; and then there’s metal-influenced the “adult version,” which one might call superior except that it relies, like an adorable set of salt and pepper shakers, on its counterpart.

Now, a brief story:

Among the many things They Might Be Giants are known for by their fans is the fact that they can sometimes get a little cranky on the road–and never more cranky than when they’re invited to play an adult gig and a bunch of kids turn up. I had the good fortune to be at such a show in Philadelphia in July, 2003.

It was a brutally hot day, and what Philadelphia refers to as the “Festival Pier” is in fact an amphitheater of bare concrete along the Delaware River that becomes, in the summer sun, an enormous bake-oven with the stage at its center. As usual, there was a rival festival just across the river in Camden, and loud music filtered across the river to clash with whatever band was performing at the time. The show was sponsored by the local public radio station, WXPN, and just before TMBG took the stage the host of their nightly children’s show took the stage to announce them. Of course, no one had told the band they were there in their capacity as a kids’ band–and they immediately made that clear.

If memory serves, it was during a rendition of Robot Parade* that John Linnell began freestyling on some very electronic-sounding whiny synth device, with John Flansburgh narrating. “In the future,” he declared, “all music will sound exactly like this. It’s going to be so fucking fantastic.”

It wasn’t long before dubstep proved Flans right, of course.

* The folks at This Might Be a Wiki claim Robot Parade was not part of the set that day, but my memory disagrees.

Alex says: “I actually really don’t like songs that use robot voice… it’s kind of unreasonable of me, but that monotone robot voice just grates on me.”

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