If you're surprised to see sardonic rockers They Might Be Giants still selling out concert halls after 25 years, as they did Thursday night at the Granada Theater, there's a simple two-word explanation: sock puppets.
Calling themselves "The Avatars of They," the sock puppet duo stole the show, singing Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," interacting with a cardboard cutout of Meg Ryan and wisecracking about Garrison Keillor or whatever else popped into their cotton-blend brains. As a camera projected the puppets' orange-and-green images onto video screens, the show started to feel like the Muppets on mushrooms.
The puppet skit is just the latest in a never-ending string of wonderfully absurd ideas from the minds of bandleaders John Flansburgh and John Linnell. Diehard fans might recall their singing ventriloquist-dummy heads from a decade ago. And of course, this is the band that invented "Dial A Song," a bizarre answering machine service that launched TMBG in the dark days before the Internet.
Last year's The Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie provided a flimsy but perfect excuse for the Giants to revive their 1998 song "The Battle for the Planet of the Apes": Flansburgh divided the crowd down the middle with a handheld spotlight, then had fans thrust their fists in the air and scream either "People!" or "Ape!" For the record, the humans crushed the primates Thursday night.
Of course, none of the gags would be worth mentioning if the songs didn't hold up. The Two Johns and their three backing musicians played a half-dozen tunes from their 15th and latest studio CD, Join Us, including "Can't Keep Johnny Down," an Irish-tinged rocker about a dude with the world's largest inferiority complex. Another new tune, "You Probably Get That A Lot," is the surely the first song about hitting on a sexy cephalophore.
The band struggled with a bass-heavy sound mix when it rocked hard in "Ana Ng" and "Birdhouse In Your Soul." The muddy mix was far less of a problem when the Two Johns went back to their minimalist roots for an accordion-laced encore of "How Can I Sing Like a Girl?"
But even the sludgy sound didn't keep fans from singing faithfully memorized lyrics to "James K. Polk" or "Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma)." Giants fans like to laugh, but they also take their history and science very, very seriously.