They Might Be Giants commentary as entertaining as music

The Red and Black, October 18, 2013
by Chelsey Abercrombie

On Thursday night at the Georgia Theatre, They Might Be Giants behaved exactly like you would expect a band that took its name from Don Quixote (or, depending on who you ask, a 1971 film with George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward) to behave.

The Georgia Theatre was the perfect level of crowded at about 80 percent, where there’s still enough of a crowd to create good energy, but not so much that I can’t scratch my eyebrow without elbowing someone.

The ages of the audience members ranged from college students to people who could be (and probably were) their parents, a testament to both the enduring nature of TMBG’s overwhelmingly quirky appeal and why main group members John Flansburgh and John Linnell are still together since first forming the band in 1982.

In addition to being thoroughly fantastic musicians, Flansburgh and Linnell could probably have their own late night TV show for lovers of the snarky and absurd, and the way they essentially emceed their own show was almost as entertaining as the music itself.

“Clap Your Hands,” from the 2002 album No! got everyone involved early on, and the normal, non-theatrical lighting that illuminated the stage between most songs made audiences feel like they were sitting in on something much more intimate than a show for a packed house.

The group threw down the audience participation card several times, including when they decided to involve everyone in a game of “Humans vs. Apes,” wherein each half of the audience traded off chanting “humans” or “apes” for a good minute, until Flansburgh ultimately declared it a tie.

In addition to playing its old hits like 1990s “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" with a fantastic accordion solo, TMBG also broke out some of its new material, including 2013’s “Tesla” and several others from its most recent album “Nanobots.”

One of the benefits of having a career so expansive is being able to tell stories, and Flansburgh and Linnell also entertained the audience with the story of their last trip to the pre-fire Georgia Theatre “25 years ago,” when, according to Flansburgh, nobody left their houses to come to the show because it had snowed “about a centimeter.”

In keeping with its eclectic image, the group brought out a bass clarinet for “Black Ops,” also a song from Nanobots, but nothing was perhaps stranger than when Flansburgh and Linnell brought out the “Avatars of They,” two sock puppets who performed the quick song “He’s Loco” — a melody about why you shouldn’t mess with either Avatar because of their various crazy qualities, like voting for Sen. Ted Cruz in every election and investing all their money in the Microsoft Zune.

If I had been at pretty much any other show, I probably would have turned around and walked out the second puppets were introduced, but “He’s Loco” turned out to be one of the most amusing parts of a thoroughly amusing set.

There was something for everybody buried within this show, as soon after the Avatars of They took a bow TMBG performed one of its award-winning children’s songs, “Here Come the Elements," for a very adult audience, and as I heard someone in the crowd say: “As a biology major, I appreciate this.”

TMBG closed up shop with not one but three encores: “Cloisonné,” “James K. Polk” and “Rhythm Section Want Ad,” thanking the “sexy people of Athens” for a great show.

TMBG’s opener, Moon Hooch, describes its sound as “an organic approach to playing electronic dance music,” while I'm pretty sure what they really meant to call themselves is “dueling saxophonists.” Guess what? That’s totally OK.

Moon Hooch’s set-up of two saxophones and a drum set was conducive to laying down plenty of rhythm-heavy, danceable music full of energy, which both the audience and the musicians could feel. I’m pretty sure one of them was making love to his alto sax at one point, but I’m not one to judge.

There is no denying that the dueling musicians of Moon Hooch are all crazy talented (and probably have the lung capacity to survive all 90-minutes of “Gravity” without the suit) but the only place my enjoyment of their music faltered was the occasional point when they decided to add lyrics. While I understand snippets of lyrics are characteristic of EDM, the whole point is they’re extremely computerized, something that can’t be reproduced onstage quite like the bouncing, energetic rhythms the band easily recreated with its saxes.

Was it the single best act I've ever seen? No, but it was a good opener to pave the way for the fantastic TMBG.