They Might Be Giants' Make-Up Show Brimmed With Passion and Humor

A blizzard nixed the original date of the March 23 They Might Be Giants show at the Gothic Theatre. But John Flansburgh and John Linnell seemed pleased, even excited, about the change in venue to the Ogden Theatre. At least that was one of many jokes that the two founding members of the band laid out there for us the entire night of playing, as Flansburgh said, “So many songs!” The show was sold out, and Flansburgh and Linnell joked at their own expense and drew us into their world, acting not like rock stars, but like the funniest people you hang out with.

True to Flansburgh's words, They Might Be Giants played two sets with 32 songs between them and two encores, for a total of 36 songs in two and a half hours. And it wasn't mellow. As nerdy as some of the music may seem, the band plays with an urgency, like it could all be over at any time. The music and the band's demeanor are infectious, and it's easy to get caught up in the momentum of it all. "If we believed in God," Flansburgh joked, "we would feel blessed to be here right now."

TMBG came to prominence in the ’80s on college radio precisely because its humor and creativity was genuinely clever and unlike much of anything else that was going on. In the middle of a song, Linnel pretended to get a phone call, and Flansburgh, facing an amp, spoke to him in an almost inhuman voice pitched low like a surrealistic bill-collector call. The interludes of banter, and the weaving together of songs and jokes was so seamless that time flew by. The band has its entire act down and never lagged in energy, whether it was “Ana Ang” or “Don't Let's Start” from the ’80s, rarely-if-ever performed tracks from 1992's Apollo 18, or a song from “one of the last three albums," which a bandmember referred to with sardonic disdain.

TMBG skimped on nothing and had some fun, including plotting a way for the band to high-five everyone in the venue. Whether planned or entirely spontaneous, the group seems able to roll with whatever situation comes up, including Flansburgh himself improv-ing new, humorous lyrics.

It was surprising to see so many Xs on the backs of hands at the show, as TMBG is an older band, but between its children's albums and its “regular” albums, the group has extended its fan base across generations. It was refreshing, too, to see everyone, regardless of age, laughing at the jokes and appreciating the core of the band — songs about what Flansburgh called “oblique subjects,” and enjoyable whether or not you were fully tapped into the humor.