The Might Be Giants perform at the Lincoln Theatre in DC on Dec. 17, 2022. (Photos by Ben Eisendrath)
When I entered the Lincoln Theatre last week, I immediately noticed many people in the audience wearing identical paper hats. As it turned out, the merch table gave them away. It was silly, it was whimsical, and it was delightful, which is a great way to describe They Might Be Giants. The evening was filled with two sets of great music and kind humor.
This may have been the most rescheduled show I’ve ever seen seen, having been pushed back five times. The Covid pandemic originally delayed it. This summer, just as they were set to make up the dates, a drunk driver blew a red light and t-boned John Flansburgh’s car, breaking seven of his ribs. That is a lot of ribs.
The performance at the Lincoln Theatre on Dec. 16 was the second of three nights in DC for the band, who played the first evening at the 9:30 Club and the next two at the Lincoln Theatre. They joked, “We’re not used to classy places like this.”
This tour celebrated the 30th anniversary of Flood, their breakout 1990 major-label debut, and they played the album in full. While I wasn’t especially clued in to current music at the time — I was 10 — some of these songs were hard to miss. I have clear memories of hearing “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which closed the first set and began with a series of solos from the Tricerachops Horns, and “Particle Man.” The former is one of their rare covers, originally recorded by The Four Lads.
Watch the official music video for “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants on YouTube:
These guys have a sense of humor, with one of them joking about not liking “any of that major-label sellout shit.” (Their first, self-titled LP and the follow-up, 1988’s Lincoln, were pretty stripped down affairs, just the two Johns, and this was their first time working with a full band.)
The songs on Flood, and throughout TMBG’s catalog, are unabashedly geeky. This made them a hit with college audiences. They played at my alma mater, Oberlin College, right before I graduated in 2003. Unfortunately, I was sick and couldn’t make the show. I guess you could say I’ve been meaning to see these guys for 20 years, and they didn’t disappoint.
I loved the geeky stuff here. Indicating the empty balconies, they joked, “Your invisibility cloaks are working perfectly.” They also had a bit where they played “Stilloob” backwards. They recorded it, and before they came out for the second set — after a 20-minute intermission, for which they declared they would be gone for two hours — it was played in reverse, making it actually come out forwards. (This followed the playing of “Hearing Aid.”) That song that immediately followed it, “2082,” is “about time traveling into the future to murder your future self, which is something everyone in this room has thought about.”
These guys know their audience. Someone told me that, at another show, one of the Johns (the other being Lindell) joked, “I’ve never seen so many pairs of glasses looking back at me.” There were some interesting costumes, here, including one woman who appeared to be a ranger or a druid as depicted in Dungeons & Dragons. (I suspect nearly everyone who came to this show has played D&D, and I joked to someone, “Should we find the one person here who enjoyed high school and beat them senseless?”)
I appreciated the band breaking up Flood and not following the order of the album. As a writer, it makes my job so much easier. When a band plays all the tracks from an album in order, it gives me one sentence of material for this blog. As the master speculative fiction writer Ursula Le Guin has said, the essence of narrative is change. There was plenty of change here: the horns coming and going from the stage, songs from across their catalog mixed in with the album retrospective.
“They Might Be Giants” played the band onstage and they opened, slyly, with “Synopsis for Latecomers.” The brought the house lights down for “Whistling In The Dark,” (the first track they played from Flood) followed by “Damn Good Times,” the appropriately raucous “Man, It’s So Loud In Here,” and “Authenticity Trip.” Several songs from Flood followed: “Road Movie to Berlin,” which appears at the end of the album, then “Letterbox,” “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair,” and “Twisting.” After “Stilloob” and “20802,” the set ended with two more album tracks, “I Want a Rock” and “Istanbul,” with “Moonbeam Rays” sandwiched between.
After the intermission, they went into a grab bag of tracks — “The Guitar,” “Ana Ng,” “Older,” and “Wicked Little Critta” — returning to Flood with “Women & Men” and “Hot Cha.” “Brontosaurus” paid tribute to one of their favorite dinosaurs. (What do you call a dinosaur that writes novels? A Brontesaurus!) “The Darlings of Lumberland” was followed by two more songs from Flood, “Particle Man” and “Lucky Ball and Chain.”
Watch They Might Be Giants perform “Particle Man” live for 120 Minutes on YouTube:
The back end of the set consisted of “Mink Car,” “Spy,” and the remaining songs from Flood, “Minimum Wage,” “Theme from Flood,” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
The audience was treated to two encores. The first consisted of “Dead,” “I Can’t Remember the Dream,” and “Doctor Worm;” for the second, they played “Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal.”
This was a really fun night, with a packed audience who really enjoyed themselves. Silly, wholesome, good fun!
Here are photos of They Might Be Giants performing at the Lincoln Theatre in DC on Dec. 17, 2022. Yes, Ben Eisendrath attended and photographed the final night while Mark attended Dec. 16 to write it up! All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ben Eisendrath.