The Touching Absurdity of They Might Be Giants

Shepherd Express, March 10, 2020
by Andy Turner

It seemed fitting They Might Be Giants (TMBG) began their sold-out show celebrating the 30th anniversary of Flood last Thursday at the Pabst Theater with “Dead.”

The absurd yet oddly touching song (which describes a lot of Flood, come to think of it) references being reincarnated as a bag of groceries and features this chorus: “Now it’s over, I’m dead, and I haven’t (now it’s)/ Done anything that I want (over)/Or, I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.”

Indeed, angst, humor and heart were in abundance throughout the show, which took the capacity crowd on a nostalgic trip through the band’s classic major label debut and onto the ins and outs of assorted oddities and hits from their entire career.

“Dead” was part of what TMBG co-founder John Flansburgh deemed a “rock block” that saw the band open by charging through four songs from Flood in a manner that made you worry they might be trying to knock some time off the original album’s 42-minute run time and get back to their hotel early.

However, there was no need to worry. The band skillfully maintained that intensity for the remainder of the night aided by a 45-minute intermission.

Highlights were plentiful, including a lovely take on “Birdhouse in Your Soul” that pushed the packed crowd out of their seats; the C&W of “Lucky Ball and Chain,” which seems to exist in some glorious spot between Elvis Costello’s “Radio Sweetheart” and any Silver Jews song; the band playing “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love” twice, normally and backward; and their odd ode to “Take it to The Limit” that allowed each John to conduct the band and the audience.

The non-Flood songs were also particularly well-chosen, especially the rowdy 2018 single “The Communists Have the Music,” the stripped down, three-song Quiet Storm portion of the show that began the second set (particularly “Music Jail, Pt. 1 & 2”), as well as the show-ending take on Cub’s “New York City.”

The group’s between-songs banter was quite delightful, with references to coronavirus, their free-ranging interview on WMSE earlier in the day, John Linnell’s new keyboard stand and dozens more zingers, asides and a brief mention of their 1992 performance at the Modjeska Theater that ended with a stage collapse amidst a polka frenzy.

And just as “Dead” was an appropriate opener, it made perfect They Might Be Giants sense that the album-opening, 27-seconds long “Theme from Flood” was their final Flood song of the night.