They Might Be Giants – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 25, 2015
At this point, They Might Be Giants’ career is long enough that it’s become near impossible to paraphrase. It also doesn’t help that their fans, including me, are nerdy and devoted enough to yell at you for leaving out anything. So here goes nothing. They Might Be Giants consist of mainstays John Flansburgh and John Linnell, plus a backing band that’s been with them since the late ’80s, when they got their start playing around New York City. In local papers, They Might Be Giants promoted their Dial-a-Song service, hooking up an answering machine to a telephone line that played a song with each call. Some have counted upward of 500 original songs through the service. Flood, out in ’89, went platinum and featured the megahits “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” They were ahead of their times poking fun at the all-seeing-eye that is the NSA, before the Snowden leaks even came out. They’ve done a lot of kids music, a handful of theme songs including ones for Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show. I’m just scratching the surface here but you get the idea.
They Might Be Giants’ musical output exists as a galaxy entirely of its own creation, somewhere in the universe alongside Ween, Frank Zappa or Weird Al Yankovic. Their latest venture is version 2.0 of Dial-a-Song, with the band releasing a new tune every Monday at midnight through a phone number (844-387-6962) and Web site. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, They Might Be Giants featured several new numbers, including this week’s Dial-a-Song, “Music Jail Pts. 1 & 2,” plus last week’s “Madame, I Challenge You to a Duel,” loosely based on Oliver Reed and Shelley Winter’s appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Outside of the new stuff, it seemed like a handful in the audience knew every word sung. There was the start-and-stop concept song dedicated to the marching on of time, appropriately titled “Older.” There was “Fingertips,” which saw everyone in the venue waving arms in unison.
The horn section came out blaring in full force for “Call You Mom” and “Authenticity Trip.” In a robot voice, Flansburgh took time to explain to all the truth about the Patriots’ Deflategate. And They Might Be Giants played tribute to recently departed Joe Franklin, who, on one of their appearances on his television show, leaned over to tell them, “If you ever win a Grammy, thank me.” They missed their chance but thanked him last night to make up for it. Trusted classics like “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” appeared toward the second half of the set. The momentum built up through two encores, before finally ending things with “Ana Ng,” off Lincoln. For They Might Be Giants diehards, the band returns next month to play their first album in its entirety. Until then, they’ll be releasing a new song every Monday at midnight through Dial-a-Song. Time marches on, and They Might Be Giants continue to grow their galaxy. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks