Live Review: They Might Be Giants at Chicago's The Vic (3/16)

Consequence of Sound, March 17, 2013
by Nick Freed

There is no band that I have seen as many times live as They Might Be Giants (TMBG). I just want to get that out of the way right now. I have been a fan of theirs since I first heard Flood in my sister-in-law’s car when I was roughly 13 years old. Since then I have seen them, roughly, 13 times. That all being said, there is something different about a TMBG show. Unlike most bands, TMBG put an emphasis on the show that goes beyond just playing songs for an audience. Since they started in the early ’80s, they have made sure to be, plainly, entertaining. From projections to audience participation to "bits", a TMBG show is a "come for the songs, stay for the spectacle" situation.

So last night, on a chaotic and cold St. Patrick’s Day Saturday, I went out to The Vic Theater in Chicago to see TMBG again, to see the show. The Vic is located more or less at ground zero of Drunktown. Right off a major El stop, down the street from a maze of bars, and, especially on this Saturday, the neighborhood is a funnel of belligerence. This fact was not lost on TMBG as they took the stage, with John Flansburgh stating, "Thank you for coming out tonight on whatever holiday causes the streets to be…like they are right now. We have many questions," before the band exploded into Nanobots opener "You’re on Fire."

In recent years, TMBG have stepped away from the projections and light shows that made them a mainstay in the arty New Wave scene in ’80s New York, but this show saw a return to those features. Mainstay "Birdhouse in Your Soul" was accompanied by video of an eyeball, while Join Us anthem "Celebration" had footage from the dash of a speeding car. It was a nice nod to their early days and kept the mood light.

The setlist pulled from deep in the catalogue, including many songs that I have never heard them play live in my nearly 20 years of attending shows, songs such as Flood cut "Whistling in the Dark,"  Lincoln‘s "They’ll Need a Crane," and "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head" from their very first album. They included songs from the newest album and oldest and everything in between. All the reliable ones were there ("The Guitar", "James K. Polk", "Fingertips") to keep fans happy, but in the end, all TMBG needs to do is play and the fans would be thrilled.

The show was comfortable and automatic for everyone. TMBG have been doing this for over 30 years now, and though they joked that they’re still learning how to play the new songs, they obviously would never allow themselves a missed note. They have their rhythm, their aesthetic, and their show all down to a science. It’s a fantastic thing to watch a band enjoying themselves by doing exactly what they want to be doing. It’s what keeps fans like me coming back over and over again.