You can try to categorize They Might Be Giants, but you'll find yourself in a bit of a pickle as there really is no easy way to define this dynamic duo from New York (consisting of John Flansburgh and John Linnell), but one thing is certain: the special 30th anniversary show that they performed at UCLA's harmonic Royce Hall on Saturday night was a fantastically fun-filled free-for-all. Take from that description what you will, but with thirty years now behind them and another thirty to hopefully come, They Might Be Giants proved that their eccentric musical style is still alive and well, and their performance was indeed a joyous one.
They Might Be Giants performed a special children's show earlier in the day, while this 30th anniversary evening concert was intended for an older crowd. TMBG showed no signs of being a tired live act during their second set of the day, and how could they? They came to Los Angeles to bring fans together, and they succeeded, performing a range of songs from their audio and multimedia offerings, including non-album singles and B-sides from their recent compilation album, Album Raises New And Troubling Questions.
Interestingly, the show started off with the band casually performing songs from their 2011 effort, Join Us, and with the audience glued to their seats. I was enjoying the performance just fine, but I did begin to wonder when the two Johns were going to bring out all the stops, get the audience out of their seats, and create the wild and wacky atmosphere that their music presents to us. You can forgive Royce Hall for being a seated arena, but there had to be the point when the band was going to make the most of their album title and get the audience to raucously jump out of their seats.
No later than five songs into the set did the Johns instruct everyone to come as close to the stage as possible, filling the aisles and splitting the room into two halves. At this point you could tell the remainder of the show would really involve the audience and capture the essence of the band's eccentricities. With Linnell on the accordion, saxophone, and keyboards; Flansburgh on guitars; bandmates Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf, and Marty Beller helping here and there; and revered trumpeter Mark Pender present, the rest of the night was fun-filled with wonderfully rousing renditions and marvelous antics.
Given that a major percentage of their songs are less than 4 minutes long, They Might Be Giants were able to perform a plethora of tracks – both popular and not-so well-known – over the course of an almost two-hour set. It didn't matter whether or not you knew the songs because the bandmates performed each one so vibrantly and effortlessly that you were up on the floor dancing to their fancy. Between each song they would have this great interplay that made the evening a relaxing affair (it is a retrospective concert, after all), and even introduced The Avatars of They -- sock puppets representing the members of They Might Be Giants -- to bring the crowd to a laughing riot.
And we got not one, but TWO encore performances. Their final encore of the band's major hit "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" from the album Flood was a fiery mixture of non-stop drumming, plucky bass, fast moves, and visual flair. The Johns didn't have enough praise for their supportive bandmates, specifically Mark Pender, whose sensual and electrifying trumpeting found as much life here as with The Max Weinberg 7 and the Basic Cable Band. The performance didn't stop until the bandmates could not physically perform anymore, and I left with a smile on my face from knowing that this band still has what it takes to explode the scene after thirty years.
So the night ended mostly with the knowledge that They Might Be Giants still has much in store for fans. Their thirty years together reveals no cracks, but only oysters and pearls (of which there were many in the video backgrounds, guaranteed to be implemented by the band themselves). This was indeed a celebratory event full of humor, fun, and a sense of life fulfillment. Considering the thirty year time span, They Might Be Giants are without a doubt the live act to still see today, regardless of how many times you might have seen them before.