When nerds sell out a show, you know you're in for it. Scanning the crowd at the Granada last night, I could tell there were quite a few folks paying babysitters until 11 p.m., who were maybe a bit pudgier than when they first got into the NYC duo in the '80s or '90s. Still, They Might Be Giants have retained that rabid fanbase by staying consistently true to their oddball sound, never trying to be commercial, but somehow managing to do so.
The polka-punk of "Istanbul" immediately took me back to the days of watching The Adventures of Pete & Pete and "Snowball in Hell" continued the "early stuff" trend most of the crowd was probably there for. "Birdhouse in Your Soul," from 1990's Flood, remains a stone-cold classic, an eternal love song for freaks and geeks: "Not to put too fine a point on it/Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet/Make a little birdhouse in your soul."
The two Johns behind TMBG -- keyboardist/accordionist Linnell and guitarist Flansburgh -- still have the chemistry that made the group such a catch. Flansburgh is the boisterous one, romping around the stage, never standing still. Linnell is the quiet, contemplative one. When Linnell brought out his bass clarinet for a song, people cheered. Again, they know their crowd.
"James K. Polk" and "Marty Beller Mask" kept the momentum going, as did "Battle For the Planet of the Apes," in which Flansburgh divided the crowd in two halves with a flashlight: "People" and "Ape."
Then there was ... a puppet interlude. Two sock puppets sang a few songs, and hocked a new drug called "Pandor" (get it?). That's when they sort of lost the crowd. I thought maybe the interlude was their version of an encore, but no, that came later with "How Can I Sing Like a Girl," "Particle Man" and crowd favorite "Why Does the Sun Shine?"
Opener Jonathan Coulton, who's gained notoriety making Internet songs, put in his time, doling out ditties about Pluto's moon and zombies, which the crowd loved, but it was TMBG's show. If you've been a longtime fan, it's sort of like you just went to the kitchen to get a snack, and they saved you a seat.
Overheard: "This band sends me back to a time when I'd never went past dry-humping, and never tried cocaine."
Random note: I know encores are part of the deal with a show like this, but really, I think one should be standard issue for any band these days. Any band.