They Might Be Giants return for the show of the year

Our favourite oddballs put on a show that Andy Kaufman would've been proud of

Subba-Cultcha, November 27, 2013

The last time They Might Be Giants played our shores they were promoting their Alphabet and Mathematic themed “Here Come The…” Album series. Many people were surprised by the band’s change of direction, but most fans have come to expect many a twist and turn when it comes to their favourite American cult oddballs. The band (well, John and John) have made a career out of turning the unexpected into a reality; whether it be their surreal lyrics, the ability to throw everything (and the kitchen sink) into their compositions or melding disparate genres together like they were destined to be that way. TMBG have created a 30 year legacy of great music, odd concepts and laced it all together with a sense of warmth and humour that you don’t get with most bands.

Why the band aren’t as well know or revered as say REM could be down to a combination of their refusal to repeat popular formulas (‘Flood’ is certified Platinum, yet the band shy away from just playing the hits) and that maybe some journalists don’t take their music seriously. Currently touring their ‘Nanobots’ album (their sixteenth to date), the band have drawn an audience full of eccentrics to this packed Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the feeling of excitement before they hit the stage is palpable.

The Stage setup is reminiscent of the Flaming Lips when they toured ‘Soft Bulletin’ with a video screen set up behind them (throughout the show it flashes between previously filmed footage and shots via their onstage cameras) and a mass of instruments piled around the stage. When the backing musicians come on stage the energy that’s been building (no support band tonight) starts to erupt, but that’s nothing compared to the rabid response when both Johns walk onstage. It’s a hero’s welcome, and one they fully deserve having risen from independent record obscurity (they thank those attending who were part of One Little Indian/4AD and Rough Trade crew that helped them in the beginning) to being one of the leading cult alternative acts in the world.

The band quickly pick up their instruments and dive straight into their opening number, but it’s not until three songs in that things really start to ignite when the opening organ notes to ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ ring out. The band have said in a recent interview with Subba (READ HERE) that they’re not bored of playing the song and it’s played in a celebratory manner, and they weren’t kidding as they throw themselves around the stage at about half a pace faster than the recorded version. Songs come thick and fast (a They Might Be Giant song probably averages in at 1 minute thirty seconds), with the band reinventing the song’s structures continually, throwing in Disco break downs, funk solo’s, chanted call and response bits to get the audience involved, it truly is a celebration like something Andy Kaufman would’ve planned for Carnegie Hall. The band are hilarious between songs, their chemistry after 30 years is faultless and as entertaining as the music played. Classic tracks like ‘Don’t Lets Start,’ ‘Boss Of Me,’ ‘Dead (Dial-A-Song),’ ‘Anna Ng,’ ‘Rhythm Section Want Ad,’ and so many more just fly past, people are conga-ing in the aisles, clapping and singing along to every song, it’s a jubilant celebration of a band who mean so much to so many. They split the crowd in half with the left side chanting ‘People’ and the right shouting ‘Ape’ for one song, creating a battle between both sides of the audience, it’s so simple but so much fun, if only more bands were confident enough to stop staring at their navels and engage with their audience like this.

The show’s real highlights were a stripped down version of ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ with John F on guitar and John L on the squeeze box, the band playing Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’ to welcome both John’s back on stage after another rapturous encore and the inclusion of a section where both are in charge of their own Puppets and perform a hilarious skit. It’s not rocket science (although you can imagine them writing a great album about it), but everything they do tonight is aimed to make you feel like this is a once in a lifetime gig, and it is something this cynical writer will cherish for years to come…