They Might Be Giants might be an act that stirs hearts with nostalgia, but they’re more than just a nostalgia act.
The band came out swinging at Warehouse Live this past Friday with an announcement that shook hundreds of nerdy, middle-aged hearts: TMBG would be playing a double set, with the second set dedicated entirely to Flood, their beloved platinum album from 1990.
“But first,” shouted guitarist John Flansburgh, “songs that you don’t like as much! They Might Be Giants: delivering disappointment since 1983.”
Such statements set the irreverent and lighthearted tone of the of the evening, in which the band tried its best to distill its mammoth 30-year catalog into a 60-minute set. They Might Be Giants played to the Southern crowd with the boot-scootin’ country track “Number Three” and the zydeco-inspired “Subliminal.”
Newer songs, like “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” from 2015’s Glean, showcased the band’s songwriting maturity and slick jazz chops. But the greatest testament to TMBG’s range was their cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” — also a part of their Belly Up show last May — which turned the R&B anthem into a gritty, guitar-driven tune with an alt-country chorus.
Fan favorites, however, were not forgotten. Awash in a kaleidoscopic, spinning light, the audience sang along to the kooky space jam “The Guitar” as John Linnell’s hand blurred over his Kaoss pad. The throaty bass lines and tight, crisp drumming on “Dr. Worm” proved that the song is more than a quirky novelty hit. And, with bittersweet self-awareness, the band played “Older” to a crowd who knew its refrain — “You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older / and now you’re older still” — all too well.
Flansburgh and Linnell both delivered a perpetually youthful and unselfconscious performance generated from being the undisputed princes of dork rock for decades. Both musicians seemed satisfied to pay homage to the bygone days of college radio while sneaking in a few new songs for good measure. Flansburgh’s tongue sat firmly in his cheek for his transitional banter, and Linnell charmed with his singular vocals, keeping the audience on its toes with an ever rotating supply of unexpected instruments, from accordion, to clarinet, to synthesizer, and back. The band, in short, is a happy one, which makes for a very happy show.
This writer was torn away from the last part of the performance after getting into a fight with Vietnamese food that Vietnamese food won. But no matter how many times I’ve listened to the album Flood, and no matter how much that might remind me of my shitty college roommate who didn’t shower for three days so he could level his WoW character, I’m sad I missed the second act. There’s something to be said for unabashedly giving an audience what they want, even if that is an album that’s over 25 years old that you’re surely tired of playing.
In a city awash in Final Four mania, They Might Be Giants provided refuge for the unathletic, the introverted, and the outcast. These fans, however, were no burden. TMBG seemed genuinely appreciative to be a musical safe haven for so many who feel like they don’t belong, or feel like the place they belong only existed a long time ago. Perhaps this is what makes them something more than a nostalgia band pandering to long-standing fans. They’re doing it because they love it — why stop?