Jessica and I had been waiting a long time for this show. Before it was even announced, we would dream about seeing this little nerd rock band that only had the most obscure hits in the mainstream. Songs like “Particle Man” or their cover of Jimmy Kennedy’s “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” were the oddest songs to ever put a band on the map but these were the songs we grew up on. Then upon the show’s announcement, all bets were off and after few emails were sent: boom, we found ourselves at a sold out Regent Theater for an evening with They Might Be Giants.
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This band’s stage presence was one of the funnest, most delightful, and hilarious that I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. John and John, Flansburgh and Linnell, still have an incredible chemistry on stage, almost like a Laurel and Hardy of rock. Flansburgh joked that the band was opening for themselves and his incredible stage banter only continued through the night. In response to one person’s flash photography, he stated it was okay for us to do what we needed to do: take selfies, read emails on our phones, whatever.
The band had just released a new album called I Like Fun and their first of two sets highlighted the songs off this album. As a six-piece band, they featured rhythm guitars, horns, bass, and drums to accompany John’s left handed guitar and John’s keys and synths. And with those instruments, the band played an incredible set of new material and old B-sides. Their sound would stay true to the tracks but then they’d also jam into moments that began creeping into genres like Dub or even Krautrock. They played songs like “Mrs. Bluebeard”, “I Left My Body”, and “Your Racist Friend”.
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The first major highlight of their first set though was when John Linnell pulled away from his keyboard and strapped on his accordion to play “Particle Man”. The band then bent that song into a momentary cover of Sia’s “Chandelier”. The accordion wasn’t the only other instrument Linnell alternated between though, at one point he picked up this obscure heap of metal covered in all sorts of buttons formally known as a contra-alto-clarinet. The band played a hefty first set and half way through the evening, I wondered how a band could remember so many songs to perform in one evening. I guess the answer is you’ve got to have been playing together for, oh, I dunno… 38 years.
After a ten minute intermission, Flansburgh came back with an acoustic guitar and their drummer sat at a different, electronic drum kit. At this part of the 2nd set, they played songs like “James K. Polk”, a song that might have been the educational highlight of the evening and an “Older” song that might have been the obsessive compulsive depressive highlight.
Then, with his silhouette, towering over the band against the backdrop, the brass player picked up a trombone and played a thrilling jazz intro to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, this was the first song that really got the crowd moving because even though this might be some of the kookiest nerd rock ever made, it still has moments of pure release. This cover song in particular, who’s original version had people all over the world dancing their asses off, can’t be denied by the body. Soon after that, they treated us with a cover of “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child, which they had performed for the Onion’s video series years ago. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for arrived and that was to hear “Birdhouse in Your Soul” live. I sang and danced with a jubilation so pure that I reserve it only for bands I love to deeply to even express.
Then after closing the second set, the band returned onstage for an encore that featured “Dead” and “Don’t Lets Start”. Upon finishing them, they returned again to perform and close with “Doctor Worm” a song I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to the lyrics to.
The show was incredible but the choice of B-sides and new songs in the setlist left something to be desired. I wanted to hear “She’s An Angel” or “Boss Of Me” but maybe I’m asking for too much, especially with how incredibly satisfying it was to collectively enjoy songs that I always held so close to my heart in private.
Words by: Rob Shepyer
Photos by: Jessica Moncrief