They Might Be Giants
Friday, May 23, at the Beaumont Club
Saturday, May 24, at Crown Center
By RICHARD GINTOWT
It was a They Might Be Giants weekend in Kansas City. The busiest geek-rock band in show business performed an “adult” show Friday night at the Beaumont and a “kids” show Saturday at the Crown Center “Jiggle Jam.” Please people, do me a favor: do NOT, under any circumstances, play “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” for at least a month. I heard it twice this weekend, and that was plenty.
I imagine TMBG are also a bit tired of playing “Istanbul” and other staples like “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Particle Man.” They've been playing those songs for 20 years – long enough that the kids who once popped their pimples to them are now slinging their own kids. But there was no visible fatigue when guitarist/singer John Flansburgh and keyboardist John Linnell tore into their catalog of sing-alongs with enthusiastic backing from guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller. Presumably that's because the band has remained creative and relevant on new albums like 2007's The Else, which spawned new fan favorites like “The Mesopotamians.”
The Beaumont was packed on Friday night with the motliest crew of concert-goers I've seen in quite some time. Local opener Charles S. McVey did an admirable job of keeping the eager audience satiated with merely a piano and some backing tracks. But the front-rushing crowd was clearly amped for the headliners, and TMBG took the stage to generous applause.
Flansburgh served as the emcee for the evening, taking advantage of the “adult” forum to deliver one-liners like “We played the fuck out of that song!” His shrill-voiced “this is the part of the show where we introduce the band!” routine was a bit grating, but the audience happily indulged him. Flansburgh also did a funny little OCD number where he moved the microphone to a different part of the stage for each song.
The group's set list included “Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal” off The Earlier Years, “New York City” and “James K. Polk” off Factory Showroom, “Doctor Worm” off Severe Tire Damage, “Cyclops Rock” and “Drink!” off Mink Car and “Take Out the Trash” and “Withered Hope” off The Else. Miller opened “Istanbul” with an awe-inspiring acoustic guitar intro that recalled Michael Hedges and Andy McKee. His playing was stellar throughout, as was TMBG's seasoned rhythm section (formerly of the band Lincoln). The crowd-pleasing second encore was “Fingertips,” a medley of 20 quirky song snippets from Apollo 18.
Saturday evening at Crown Center, TMBG was charged with the unenviable task of following Jim “Mr. Stinky Feet” Cosgrove & the Hiccups and Justin Roberts & the Not Ready for Naptime Players. A handful of 20-and-30somethings were on hand sans kids, and the ones who did have kids were probably more excited about TMBG than their little ones. The band appeased both contingents with a set that was periodically upstaged by massive confetti-gun blasts. TMBG's “kids” catalog isn't all that different from its “adult” catalog; songs like “Seven” and “I Am Not Your Broom” would fit comfortably on any of the band's 12 albums. The kids in the front-row seemed more excited by Linnell's accordion than his storybook lyrics. Hopefully that won't inspire them to learn accordion instead of guitar.
Since I'm not exactly the target market for TMBG's kids shows, I brought a four-year-old along to get his thoughts. Halfway through the set, Dorian said “I like it.” But 45 minutes into the set, he changed his tune and said “I want to go do something else.” To be fair, there was a primo selection of inflatable slides and bouncy castles.
Personal bias: I used to love TMBG, but not in a geeky way or anything.
Random detail: Crown Center is not, in fact, ready to rock.
By the Way: Why do most children's performers feel compelled to wear Hawaiian shirts? Kudos to TMBG for bucking the trend.