They Might Be Giants started out as a college band from Brooklyn, New York. They broke with a wave of other weird alternative rock bands like R.E.M and Midnight Oil. Their biggest hits, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” topped the Modern Rock charts in 1990. Since then, the band has won a Grammy for writing their song “Boss of Me”, which was featured as the theme song on Malcolm in the Middle, and for their experimentation with children’s music in Here Come the 123s.
But TMBG are not solely a children’s band any more than South Park deserves to be on Cartoon Network. Their performance was dotted with satire, social commentary, and puppets covering Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. At one point, the band’s puppets plugged a fake advertisement for the drug Pander, which makes people less socially awkward and has more side effects than positive effects.
The crowd included a mix of younger people and middle aged fans who probably caught TMBG in their Flood hey-day back in 1990. The concert was awash with 90s nostalgia, including John Linnell’s klunky grey keyboard, the random Meg Ryan puppet, and the VCR fuzz on the screen behind the band. But, there were several jokes about vampires and the 99% that shook their fans back into 2012.
About halfway through the set, guitarist John Flansburgh uttered “we’re actually going to ask that you turn your cell phones up. You probably can’t hear the ringer over the show”. Segwaying into conversation about a cell phone that interrupted a live performance of one of Mahler’s symphonies in New York. Apparently, the orchestra stopped playing due to an alarm that was eminating from an audience member’s phone. “And the funny part was, before this happened, they were going to name the building after him. He was some one-percenter. And you all know how powerful those Apple batteries can be.”This was followed by some ramblings about the tact in telling a New-York-specific joke in Florida.
Soon after, TMBG cycled into a compilation of older material, including hit “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Later in the night, they dusted off “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” during their second encore.
As funny and talented as ever, it is hard to believe that they have been touring and writing music for over thirty years. Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist John Linnell was voted in the top ten of People Magazine poll for Most Beautiful People of 1998. And he wasn’t looking too shabby at the concert, sporting a t shirt and skinny jeans, he still looked like he could be mixing demos in his basement during the Clinton administration.Short silly songs were embraced by the audience with a playful sincerity that was reminiscent of being at a Flaming Lips show. Crowd participation included a staged competition between audience members and an impromptu Conga line enveloping the floor full of concert goers toward the end of the night.