Business as unusual for the mighty Giants

The Sydney Morning Herald, February 25, 2019
by Michael Bailey

They Might Be Giants
Factory Theatre, February 23


There's eclectic, then there's They Might Be Giants.

Befitting a duo that used to run an answering-machine service that played a new song every few days, Brooklyn's John Flansburgh and John Linnell treated this sold-out crowd to two hours of musical roulette from across their 1980s and 2010s output, and beyond.

We got polkas (Music Jail Parts 1 & 2), country (Number Three), jazz (the Bond theme from a parallel universe that was Spy), show tunes (a cover of Istanbul Not Constantinople that used every vocal tic in the book to slow down and shatter to pieces, before regaining accord with triumphant piano accordion) as well as the indie rock and pop that won them fame (2018's All Time What sounding as vital as the classic which followed it, She's An Angel from 1986's self-titled debut).

Harmonising with the telepathy of four decades, the nasal voices of Flansburgh and Linnell sounded melodic and clear, and they seemed as delighted by their oddball, anti-rock'n'roll lyrics as ever.

"I'm not jealous of the zealous/Or anarchics with guitar picks," sang Linnell with a smile on brand new opener, The Communists Have the Music.

And in case we needed reminding that They Might Be Giants are in a category all their own, there was the absurdist, Ames Brothers-on-acid strum-along of Shoehorn With Teeth.

The joy this pair still get from live performance was palpable. Flansburgh cracked wise and hoisted guitar to shoulder like a mariachi, Linnell ran about like a kid at Christmas as he switched from squeeze box to synth to keyboard to baritone sax – used to creepy effect on the misleadingly-named, minor-key I Like Fun.

The four musicians backing Flansburgh and Linnell on their smorgasbord of styles were top shelf, but never sounded like a session band as the duo pushed and pulled most of these songs beyond their studio versions.

Many tunes did veer towards novelty (the oompah of Let Me Tell You About My Operation, the Appalachian pastiche of Hide Away Folk Family) and were easier to admire than relate to.

But certainly not the big, universal hits – Birdhouse in Your Soul and the joyous Doctor Worm – for which TMBG thankfully broke this night's two-decades-only format to play, for a rapturous reception, in the encore.