They Might Be Giants at the Marquee Theatre

Phoenix New Times, January 29, 2012

How many F-bombs can you drop in a PG-13 movie? Is it one? Two?

However many, last night's They Might Be Giants show certainly earned its 14-and-over "rating," with the "Johns," Flansburgh and Linnell, peppering their set with colorful language. Those only familiar with They Might Be Giants as a whip-smart children's outfit might have found the swearing a little out of place, but TMBG's were in full rock 'n' roll mode at the Marquee.

Which is to say there were Black Sabbath covering sock puppets, windmill guitar poses, drum solos, crowd battles, and one very drunk dude getting dragged out. How many drunk people have been kicked out of TMBG shows over the band's 30 years? Is it three? Is it four?

Okay, so one trashed bozo notwithstanding, the crowd was predominately made of exactly who you might expect at a TMBG show. Or to put it even more succinctly, the words of Topher at the Marquee bar: "Let's hope no one needs any IT support tonight."

Last time I was at Marquee, to watch controversial hip-hop collective Odd Future, the crowd was very, very different, but what they shared was a fevered level of excitement. TMBG have been doing this awhile, and along the way they've picked up some very devoted, very energetic fans. Yeah, there were a few young kids running around, but for the most part it was 30-to-40-somethings following the commands of songs like "Clap Your Hands" (followed, of course, by directions to "stomp your feet" and "jump").

"Mozel tov," Linnell announced to cheers. "How is it going? [Crowd looses it] That's exactly how it seems it's going, but I just wanted to check."

I recall reading an interview with Craig Finn, of The Hold Steady and a recent solo album, about how Hold Steady fans are the kind of folks who don't get out much, who might even call into work the next day. There was a similar feeling with TMBG fans; that isn't to say there weren't a few avid showgoers hanging out, but you got the feeling that this was an event as much as a concert.

Old favorites like "Particle Man," "Birdhouse in Your Soul," and "Istanbul" were given air right alongside tracks like "Can't Keep Johnny Down," "Old Pine Box," and "Marty Beller Mask" from the band's latest disc, Join Us, and its accompanying rarities compilation, Album Raises New and Troubling Questions . The band wasn't afraid to goof around, either, dividing the crowd for a call and response tug of war, and descending into madness with a metal inspired "Avatars of They" set. Sock puppet versions of the Johns quipped, and introduced a cut out of Meg Ryan. "She's famous," Flansburgh joked. "And litigious!"

Closing with "When Will You Die" (not the most sardonic number from Join Us, but in the running), the band returned for not one, but two encores, closing out with amped up versions of "How Can I Sing Like a Girl," "Doctor Worm," "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)," and "Dead."

I could have even stood for more songs. How many bands can you say that about after two encores?

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Jonathan Coulton and They Might Be Giants

The Crowd: A They Might Be Giants crowd.

Better Than: Watching reruns of Malcolm in the Middle.

Personal Bias: I guess there are the kind of folks who hate stuff like TMBG, and folks that love it. Include me in the latter.