REVIEW: They Might Be Giants at the Pabst Theater
36 years after initially forming, and 32 years after their debut album was turning heads, They Might Be Giants are still the somewhat quirky duo that ambitiously took on the world with a guitar and an accordion; they’ve just gotten better at doing so. On Friday night at the Pabst Theater, they brought much more than that to the stage, and proved why they’ve earned a reputation for being a tremendous live act.
Rather than warming up the crowd with an opening act, fans were treated to two They Might Be Giants sets, spanning their career from their beginnings up to material from their new album, “I Like Fun”. At one point, guitarist John Flansburgh joked that the first set was actually “They Must Be Giants”, the world’s oldest They Might Be Giants tribute act. Both Flansburgh and multi-instrumentalist John Linnell were full of funny quips throughout the night, including local references like their thoughts of stealing the Hummel figurines at Mader’s, and a suggestion to place the Bronze Fonz in the center of the Pabst Theater, naturally to referee the interactions between the statues of composers that line the balconies.
The night was full of fun banter between songs, and if you’ve ever been to a stand-up show in Milwaukee, you know the crowd was eager to voice their input. Flansburgh expertly responded to someone requesting songs because it was their 23rd They Might Be Giants show with “This is like our 1500th”, getting a big pop from the crowd. While this should have interrupted the flow of the show, it actually gave the night a very playful feel, and came off very endearing to the Milwaukee crowd.
Set one consisted of many songs that were more geared towards long time TMBG fans, as well as a few select cuts from “I Like Fun”. Early tracks like “Ana Ng” blended well with recent single “I Left My Body” and “All Time What”, which received good reactions. There was even a very enjoyable cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Bills Bills Bills” that got a huge cheer, especially from the younger portion of the wide-ranging Pabst Theater crowd.
The first set was also a chance to showcase the duo’s impressive live band, especially one-man horn section Curt Ramm, who is also a touring member of The E Street Band. While the entire band got to showcase their skills at some point within various solos, Ramm could bring take the show to another level, blowing the crowd away (no pun intended) with his technicality on the trumpet, trombone, and in one occasion, alternating between both. Linnell was also very impressive, switching between the piano, accordion, and concert alto clarinet.
Set two consisted of more of the songs that got They Might Be Giants to the point that they could still tour 30 years down the road. A considerably larger portion of the crowd was standing, especially when they were prompted by the start of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Many tracks from 1990’s “Flood” made it to this half of the show, including a lively singalong to “Particle Man”. The crowd was even treated to “The Famous Polka”, the song that unintentionally collapsed the Modjeska Theater stage in 1992. Thankfully, everyone came out of the show on Friday unscathed.
Not one, but two encores closed out the night, including “Birdhouse In Your Soul”, which got the crowd roaring along. Apollo 18 cut “The Guitar” and “Severe Tire Damage” era track “Dr. Worm” closed out the night, giving fans a full range of tracks to go home singing.
With two sets, two encores, and only a 20 minute intermission breaking up two and a half hours of music, it’s safe to say that They Might Be Giants continue to put on a entertaining, fulfilling live show. As the band continues to put out music, there’s no signs of slowing down, but rather continually building their catalog of tracks to play. As the crowd in Milwaukee found out on Friday night, they can play all night, and keep you singing along the entire time.