They Might Be Giants are in the midst of a celebratory 30th anniversary tour for their historic album, “Flood.” Before they hit the West Coast, TMBG are sharing “Flood” with the rest of the States in sold-out show after sold-out show. The iconic duo will hit SoCal next month, so hopefully you are one of the lucky folks with tickets to the San Diego or Los Angeles shows. OC Music News caught them in the first of two sold out nights in Nashville to give you a glimpse of what lies ahead.
One of the most eager, polite, and festive crowds we’ve seen in quite some time, the audience was adorned in THEY crowns (free to fans at the show) and we saw lots of TMBG merch purchased and worn. A Nashville concert typically has a celebrity or two in attendance, but one of our greatest spottings occurred this night when Beaker, the legendary lab assistant from The Muppets, was found dancing before the band took the stage.
TMBG had promised no opener, two sets, and all of “Flood.” The crowd was ready for it and as soon as the lights dimmed, the fans gave enthusiastic cheers. As childhood friends John Flansburgh and John Linnell walked onto the stage, the cheering increased in volume. The band got into position and a drum solo began as Linnell took photos of the audience, which was explained later in the show.
Flansburgh greeted the crowd with “We are They Might Be Giants from Brooklyn, New York. Thank you for coming out to the show. We’re so excited to be here. We so often get to play bowling alleys,” which drew laughter from the room as yes, we were in a bowling alley venue. He continued, “We’re on a cultural mission to bring a piece of Brooklyn to wherever we go. Be sure to keep your hands on your wallets and purses. We’ve got so much to celebrate. We’re just coming off a huge Grammy loss. We’re feeling great about it.” Flansburgh’s humor would continue through the night, and while their music is fun and entertaining, just seeing Flansburgh and Linnell joke with each other and their band is worth the ticket. Of course, longtime fans know that, hence sold-out shows!
Starting off with a song from that Grammy-nominated album, 2021’s “Book,” they launched into “Synopsis for Latecomers.” The horn section appeared onstage mid-song and the crowd went crazy with cheers and yells, and deservedly so: they are phenomenal. Truly a talented bunch of musicians onstage.
After the enthusiastic response to the song, Flansburgh said, “This is already better than I expected!” He and Linnell then explained that four members of the band have “mild respiratory illnesses” that will “only enhance the show.” Linnell described his pre-show breathing as the sound of “the Eraserhead baby,” but again, “it’s only going to make the show better.” They assured us no one had COVID and they were pleased to be “regular, old sick” and it was now “part of the celebration!”
“Brontosaurus” was followed by “Twisting” and “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair,” and any musical solos or breaks in songs were met with loud cheers and applause, then thunderous applause at song endings.
The band had the lights turned up so they could take more pictures of the audience, explaining they were creating a secret photo project involving 3D. They mentioned the free crowns took all their profits, but they are not corporate, they “do it for love,” so they will just eat rice while we wear our crowns. Again, their humor makes the show special and the audience was in on the joke.
“We Want a Rock” showed off Linnell’s distinctive voice before he grabbed the accordion, while Flansburgh handled vocals for “How Can I Sing Like a Girl?” “Particle Man” followed, which of course was a favorite and induced a sing-along from the fans.
“Hot Cha,” “Museum of Idiots,” and “Lucky Ball and Chain” were followed by Flansburgh telling a story of a “bad” review the band had received. He stated they do not typically read reviews, but saw one that complained about them taking a 45-minute intermission. He assured us that was untrue; no one does that, except perhaps the Eagles – between songs. They also joked about Bob Dylan and his band tuning their guitars for four minutes between songs (which would come back later in the set).
We were then treated to something extra special. TMBG has learned to play “Stilloob” completely in reverse – music and words. While they confessed playing songs in reverse may be considered Satanic, they assured us they would fix any curse before the night was over. This was indeed awesome and the song clip I had to share with friends.
“Moonbeam Rays” and “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” led to a beautiful moment of guitar tuning (see, they’ve got the jokes), then “Road Movie to Berlin.”
Once again, we were treated to the impressive musical talent that TMBG brings with their full band. A Spanish-style guitar solo from Dan Miller began the intro, then Dan Levine’s trombone took over for “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which had the energy in the room pumped up. After the group sing-along, a trumpet solo from Mark Pender, complete with a call and response with the crowd, wrapped up set one, allowing for the NOT 45-minute intermission.
After their break, the “corrected” video for “Stilloob” was played, reversing any curse we may have been victim to. Flansburgh thanked They Might Be Giants for opening for them, reiterated that they only took a 20-minute break, and they went into “Memo to Human Resources,” then “Minimum Wage.”
They discussed their upcoming trip to the West Coast and mentioned they will make themselves look presentable by then, getting haircuts and new shoes. They reminded us of the celebration of “Flood” and said perhaps they should do “Flood 2: The Exploitation Years.” There was a discussion of Paul McCartney’s work (“Then it’s like ‘McCartney 2’” / “Here’s the thing. People didn’t like ‘McCartney 1.’”). “Letterbox,” “Your Racist Friend,” and “Whistling in the Dark” followed, and brought the horn section to the front of the stage, much to the approval of the crowd.
“I’ll Sink Manhattan,” “When Will You Die,” and “Spy” followed, the latter including a musical interlude that showcased the musical chops of the band as Flansburgh portrayed a conductor. Upon conclusion, they made sure to introduce the band: Danny Weinkauf (bass, keyboards), Marty Beller (drums), and the incredible horn section of Curt Ramm, Dan Levine, Stan Harrison, and Mark Pender.
They played though “Women & Men,” “Dead,” before getting to “Theme From Flood” and the song that elicited another huge response, “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
After a thank you, good night, and brief moment, they were back for their first encore. Playing “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas),” we received an education about the sun and Linnell did his wonderful Neil Sedaka impression.
Before they did “Dr. Worm,” Flansburgh said, “It is a total blast to be in this band” and thanked the fans for supporting them and allowing them to do this for all these years.
Another goodnight… and one more encore of “James K. Polk” was wrapped up by a bow to the fans, who gave a loud and well-deserved round of applause and cheers of appreciation.
When I spoke to Flansburgh in December, he said it was exciting to play “Flood” because in addition to the hits that casual fans may know, they can “present them with all this stuff that they might have missed out on.” As for hardcore fans, “it’s a really interesting deep dive into something that they probably dig a lot anyway. And then for all these people who are kind of coming out of the woodwork for this musical event, we can sort of shine in other ways.” As a casual fan who “knows the hits” – and their material for kids – experiencing They Might Be Giants was an absolute blast. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know every song or all the words – you will have a memorable experience!
July 16, 2023
They Might Be Giants will play at Humphreys Concerts By the Bay in San Diego on April 12th and 13th, then The Wiltern in Los Angeles on April 14th and 15th. You can also catch them supporting Sparks at Hollywood Bowl July 16th – tickets go on sale May 2nd.