They Might Be Giants Go Big at Upstate Concert Hall on April 22nd

Upstate Live, May 1, 2015
by Erin Reid Coker

On a chilly April night in upstate N.Y., a crowded Upstate Concert Hall was lined with a plethora of excited 50-year-olds and an equal amount of sweaty hipsters in shorts, glasses and flowered shirts; all united to enjoy the revisit of the Brooklyn based They Might Be Giants in support of their 2015 release, “Glean”, a glorious 15 track release of quick hitting tunes.

The band, opening for themselves and later in the evening jokingly thanked themselves for the opening, kicked off the first set of the night, titled “What Nut” with the danceable tune “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” from the 2011 release “Join Us”. The duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell were in perfect unison from the start. Flansburgh thrashed around the stage through strands of light providing vocals and rhythm guitar as Linnell stayed stationary to the keyboard.

Moving through the set, Flansburgh and Linnell interacted through a robotic female phone caller named “Siri”. Flansburgh, back turned to the audience, provided the voice of “Siri” mocking Linnell and suggesting the band should stray from playing the new tunes and stick to playing some older tracks that the crowd might be more familiar with. The playful exchange between the two elder statesman was well received by the audience and perhaps was a plug for the duos “Dial-A-Song” service where the band, for the entire 2015 year, will present a brand new song each week and offer it free on iTunes. The “Dial-A-Song” website and service is an ingenious and generous effort by the band who seem to stay connected to the college communities via commercial radio shows and podcasts. One has to wonder how they find time to sleep, tour and plan to record 52 songs over 52 weeks.

Probably the biggest surprise of the night was the band’s ambitious and glorious rendition of Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” followed by “When You Die” and then the pre-millenium release “Older”, from the 1999 ABC mini-series “A Brave New World”. A pre-mentioned “Dial-A-Song” release “Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel” and “Man, It’s So Loud in Here” followed.  The band finished out their 10 plus track first set with the popular tune “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)” from the 1990 album “Flood”, a widely successful release on Elektra Records.

After a 20 minute, self proclaimed much needed coffee break, the band returned for the second set titled, “Sammy” and kicked it off with, “You’re On Fire”, a groovy and catchy song with a must see video featuring a singing ground beef meat puppet. The tune also brought out the tantalizing vocals of guitarist and back vocalist Dan Miller. Moving down the setlist, the band belted out hooky beats in the form of the crowd favorites “Cyclops Rock” and “Call You Mom.”

Linnell rarely strayed from his keyboard and constantly made eye contact with the front row who seemed to be familiar with all of the intelligent lyrics the band was offering. During the second set, Flansburgh joked about how he had no idea where he was but wanted to thank a “Mr. Clifton Park” for funding their current tour. It certainly provided for some nice humor in regards to playing in Albany… or near Albany anyway.

Through “Authenticity Trip”, a second go at some random “Polka”, “Good To Be Alive”, “Erase” from the 2015 album “Glean” and the ultra-brilliant sing along, “Why Does the Sun Shine”, they eventually led to the final song of the set, “Birdhouse In Your Soul”. Birdhouse, also from the album, “Flood” peaked at #70 on the American charts in 1989 and more recently had a bit of a revival on the UK Singles Chat. It’s an absolute beauty of a song that is simply noted to be about a child’s canary shaped night light, a story told by that particular light’s point of view but certainly could be perceived as something deeper. Whatever the true meaning of the song is, it’s easy to see why it is a crowd favorite as all in attendance bopped their heads up and down mouthing the catchy lyrics.

The band returned to house lights, set in a sea of cyan and hit an encore featuring, “Dead”, a morbid but mesmerizing song that you might hear at a hipster’s funeral someday. 1988’s release “Lincoln” and more specifically album lead single, “Ana Ng” followed “Dead”. The band, also featuring drummer Marty Beller as well as bassist and Moon Hooch t-shirt touting Danny Weinkauf who beautifully merged with Flansburgh and Linnell on the final tune, “Robot Parade”. “Robot” gave Flansburgh ample opportunity to announce his fellow bandmates before screeching out the last round of “boom shakalakas” resulted in a perfect ending to an upbeat evening.

One could argue that the only tune missing was one of the bands biggest hits, “Don’t Let’s Start” but the absence of the song never took away from the bands energy and connections made with the audience that evening. It’s easy to see how such an intelligent and talented band has stuck around, even 25 years after the “Flood” release and success. The band can be found performing every last Sunday of the month at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn which has sold out every month to this point in 2015 and the “Dial-A-Song” website is certainly worth lending your eyes and ears to.