They Might Be Giants

Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 29, 2013
by Alesha L. Crews

Few bands achieve the same varied musical success and longevity as alternative rock duo They Might Be Giants.

For 30 years, the band, originally based in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been writing, recording and performing rock music. The group also found success recording children's albums and theme songs for TV shows, including "Boss of Me" from "Malcolm in the Middle."

Sixteen albums and two Grammy Awards later, the band continues to produce songs with wit, upbeat rhythm and imagination. TMBG returns to Iowa City for a performance at 7 p.m. Sunday at The Englert Theater.

The band recently returned from the Australian leg of its tour supporting its newest album, "Nanobots," a mixture of traditional rock songs and short, quirky tracks.

"It's like an album plus an adventure," said TMBG singer and guitarist John Flansburgh. "I think the short songs just kind of reset the listener's expectations. You can't assume how the experience of the album is going to be."

Flansburgh, who co-founded the band along with John Linnell, said the band likes to challenge the mainstream idea of what an album is "supposed to be."

"I think some of the short songs on the album are actually some of the most exciting," he said. "It's not just because they are short, it's because they are big productions and crazy ideas for a song and they work."

Flansburgh said he particularly likes performing the new track, "Call You Mom," from the latest album, which he describes as a "barn burner."

He said the band constantly is revamping its live shows depending on what type of venue they are playing in and whether they have played there before. Flansburgh said the band tries to incorporate at least one song from each of the older albums along with newer work.

"The (set list) is always evolving," he said. "We probably change one or two things every day and at the end of the tour end up doing a show that is very different from the one when we started."

Flansburgh said the band aims to get the audience involved and invested in live shows.

"For the stage show, there is a part of it that is very casual, we talk to the audience," he said. "... But the show is probably louder than people would expect, it's pretty fast-paced. We lean pretty heavily on the rock songs and there's a fair amount of dancing."

Flansburgh said starting with abstract artistic goals has contributed to the band's longevity.

"We trimmed our sails for a long, slow ride," he said. "What we were doing wasn't necessarily going to get us to the top of the charts but it's been something that has really engaged and challenged us."

He said the band's strong interpersonal relationships also have contributed to its success.

"We actually get along," Flansburgh said. "... We have this extra level of continuity through working with great musicians and it's really fun."

Looking forward, Flansburgh said he hopes to do more recordings with brass instruments.

"It might seem very specific, but it makes sense in my imagination," Flansburgh said.