The last time I saw They Might Be Giants was at the Agora Theater in 1993. My memory recalls an epic show, but details from so many years ago are a bit fuzzy. The production TMBG presented at the Beachland Ballroom this past Sunday, nearly 25 years later, speaks to their unwavering ability to continue to deliver legendary performances.
As they took to the stage, TMBG instantaneously hooked their audience. Starting with I Left My Body, off of their latest release, they quickly dove into a collection of songs – both new and old – accompanied by a playful, amusing banter that had the crowd laughing, dancing and singing throughout the night.
Almost immediately after the notes from the first song faded, John Flansburgh stated, “…and this is what it looks like when it just happens.” Sharing his experience of thinking they went on at 9pm, rather than 8pm, and how he was not “psychologically prepared” for the performance. His statement met with roars of laughter, to which both him and John Linnell questioned if we should be celebrating this current state of being.
This type of familiar conversation characterized the entire evening as Flansburgh and Linnell created a comedic atmosphere on stage that could probably have stood on its own to entertain a crowd. Instead, it was simply the bridge between the delivery of musical genius and esteemed performance.
Throughout the two-set night, TMBG traversed through songs and stories with an amazing comfort and ease. When the accordion appeared in the hands of John Linnell, the crowd gave their raucous approval. And when it sadly revealed it was broken, TMBG just kept on rolling. Adding the adventure of its hopeful repair by their stage man to the show; “John Carter has the soldering iron out,” Linnell shared with his band mates and audience, alike. When it was finally delivered back into his hands a few songs later, the appreciation by band and audience alike was momentous as they delivered an incredible rendition of Whistling in the Dark.
They Might Be Giants explored every aspect of music and sound as they presented old favorites, such as Your Racist Friend, next to new releases, such as Mrs. Bluebeard. They funneled the sounds of different styles and genres, grooving through reggae beats and tearing into punkish driving lines. The chemistry between the Johns on stage, coupled with their remarkable story telling and humor, meant there was never a dull moment.
By the time they ended the set with an intensely energetic Birdhouse in Your Soul, the entire venue was infected with their energy. It didn’t take long to get TMBG back on stage for their encore. They proceeded to present a brand new song they were “very excited to play,” followed by the crowd favorite Dr. Worm. But when they left the stage, the pumped audience still had not had enough. The fervent foot stomping and clapping of the crowd brought them back for a second encore, in which Linnell and Flansburgh both took turns as conductor—directing the transformation of organized chaos into an impactful performance of the exploration of sound. With the wave of an arm, a gesture up or down; they alternately shifted the spotlight between the various instruments on stage, recorded samples, and even the audience’s thunderous roar.
They Might Be Giants truly took their audience on a journey through sound and performance, utilizing the leading guide of their three-decade repertoire of music. Perhaps it is my increased perspective and appreciation for the depth in the performances I am honored to witness—but 25 years later, I am newly awed and deeply respectful of the art these men create on stage.