They Might Be Giants: Roseland Theater, May 8 2015

Noisehole, May 11, 2015
by Kevin Meyer

They Might Be Giants have to be one of the hardest-working bands in the industry. The show I attended at the Roseland Theater was TMBG’s second of the day, and while I don’t know how involved their first set was, they did double-duty on the second, “opening” for themselves for a total of three hours onstage, minus a brief break in the middle. Even after what must have been an exhausting day, they still played two encores. And then there’s their newly revitalized Dial-A-Song, which features a completely new song each week for the entirety of 2015.

This must have been the seventh or eighth time I’ve seen They Might Be Giants live. I’ve lost track by this point. They’re one of my favorite bands to see live, mostly because I find myself involuntarily grinning like an idiot through the whole show. In addition to their typically clever and funny songwriting ("When Will You Die?" being a particular favorite of mine), nobody does stage banter better than John Linnell and John Flansburgh.

For this particular show, the band was focused on the upcoming mother’s day holiday. The show was interrupted repeatedly by phone calls from They Might Be Giants’s mother (most notably during the long pause during the second chorus of "Older"). That’s right – the entire band’s mother (A.K.A. John Flansburgh, speaking with his back to the stage in an impossibly deep, drug-addled voice), who, in her own words, “gave birth to my five beautiful boys simultaneously.” She was so exhausted, she said, that she could only think up three names for the band: John, John, Dan, Dan, and Marty.

With such an expansive discography (16 albums over 33 years!), TMBG needed all three precious hours. They played about half of the songs from their new album, Glean , though mention of that album was conspicuously absent. Instead, the band focused more on promoting Dial-A-Song, introducing the tracks that appeared on Glean but originated on the phone such as "Erase," "Unpronounceable," and "Answer" as Dial-A-Song tracks. Plenty of older territory was covered too, including the obvious hits like "Birdhouse in Your Soul," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," and "Particle Man." With room to stretch, they didn’t shy away from deep cuts, either, such as "The Famous Polka," "32 Footsteps," and "Number Three" (the third song of the set, naturally). We were also treated to covers of Destiny’s Child’s "Bills, Bills, Bills" and Jonathan Richmond’s "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," another Dial-A-Song track.

After the end of the set (closed as always with Apollo 18‘s insane collection of mini-songs, "Fingertips"), They Might Be Giants were off to San Francisco for another double-header the following night, followed, Linnell said, by finally catching up on some sleep. I’m guessing they won’t rest long, however. There’s always more work to do.