They Might Be Giants impress in a big way

OnMilwaukee, June 1, 2013
by Rick Katschke

Over the past 30 plus years, They Might Be Giants has consistently entertained with their catchy melodies and quirky lyrics. On Friday night at Turner Hall Ballroom, their strong command of their catalog was greatly appreciated by an adoring audience.

They Might Be Giants had an odd opening to the set as for roughly the first five songs; the mix was way off and it was extremely difficult to discern the singing of John Linnell. Co-conspirator John Flansburgh’s vocals were a bit clearer, but it was still strange to begin with such muddy sound, especially when the lyrics are such a vital component of what makes They Might Be Giants special. Even though the lyrics were hard to hear, the majority of the crowd knew the words anyways to songs like "New York City" and "Memo to Human Resource" as they sang along.

Thankfully the balance cleared up, allowing the audience to clearly make out both the lyrics and the banter between Linnell and Flansburgh. The two were fascinated by the fact that the Turner Hall stage slopes down towards the audience. Citing their stage insecurity, Linnell referred to it as an "Inception-esque" bad dream.

They also effectively promoted their new album, at first joking that it was available on 8-track and cassette tapes and then being a little more serious about a vinyl version being available at the merchandise table. This version was deemed appropriate "if you still have a record player or aspire to have a record player." After mentioning that the next show on the tour was in Minneapolis with tickets still available, Flansburgh suggested that fans recommend it to friends in the twin cities or follow the band northwest "if you want to see this exact same show, slightly better rehearsed."

The show occasionally employed the use of a video screen which featured found footage-style visuals to go along with the music. The most effective of these was a black and white animated sequence of amoebas that blended the band with the screen. There was also a camera on-stage that was connected to the screen. This was used most effectively when Linnell and Flansburgh performed as the Sifl & Olly-esque sock puppet duo the Avatars. The Avatars performed the song "He’s Loco," adding a local flavor to it by inserting the lyric "I vote for Scott Walker in every election."

Thanks to the short length of the songs within their catalog, They Might Be Giants played over 20 songs in roughly an hour and a half. The biggest hits of the night were naturally the songs that They Might Be Giants are best known for. Their distinct cover of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" was featured early in the set while "Doctor Worm" and "Birdhouse in Your Soul" were among the final songs of the night. With the audience jumping along to the latter song, it was clear that the impact and appeal of They Might Be Giants has not faded at all.

They Might Be Giants deserve huge kudos for introducing the audience to the night’s opening act, Moon Hooch, who made an overwhelmingly positive impression. At first, the sight of a trio consisting of two saxophonists and a drummer created uncertainty at what their act would be like. Moon Hooch delivered one of the most infectious sets of the year. It is hard to pinpoint their exact sound, but it is a really unique blend that features elements of jazz, dubstep and chiptune music that had distinct movements that were catchy, humorous and also suspenseful.

After playing their final song of the evening, Moon Hooch were awe-struck by the unwavering ovation they received. It seemed like they were unfamiliar with the feeling of such massive adoration and uncertain if they should play another song. The applause was broken when Moon Hooch explained their origin, that they began three years ago when they "started playing in the subway trying to make some money…and this happened." Moon Hooch’s self-titled album will be released this month and thanks to their performance, a high percentage of Friday’s crowd will acquire it.