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Live Review: They Might Be Giants at The Vic Theatre • Chicago

| October 14, 2022


They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants

The Vic Theatre

Chicago, IL

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Live Review by Jeff Elbel

John Flansburgh and John Linnell have been making up for lost time. The pair’s heavy touring schedule stretches well into 2023, covering dates lost since truncating a spring 2020 tour due to the COVID lockdown and recurring concerns. Not only that, but They Might Be Giants encountered a major setback in June when they finally returned to action. Flansburgh’s vehicle was struck by a drunk driver following TMBG’s tour reopening performance at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom. The guitarist and singer was hospitalized with seven fractured ribs. “I will be watching ‘Sex and the City’ reruns until I am strong enough to reach the remote,” he wrote wryly from his bed. “Someday we will rock again — and for me, that day couldn’t come soon enough.”

On Thursday, that day arrived in Chicago for fans at the Vic Theatre. The show served as a delayed celebration of the 30th anniversary of TMBG’s 1990 platinum-selling Flood album, home to favorite singles, including the accordion-driven “Particle Man.” The show featured witty nerd-rock favorites from across the band’s career, including “Wicked Little Critta” from the recently reissued 2001 album Mink Car. Selections from the band’s latest album Book included “Moonbeam Rays” and “Synopsis for Latecomers.”

Flansburgh May have had an ibuprofen IV drip waiting in the wings for all anyone knew, but he seemed fit, lively, and up to his usual antics throughout a show that topped two hours. He cruised the stage during songs, carrying his microphone stand and guitar to different spots for better positioning with a bandmate or a section of the audience. Partner and primary singer John Linnell stuck mostly to his keyboard rig at the front and center of the stage, although he did roam a bit when playing accordion on songs like the ghoulish “The Darlings of Lumberland.” Flansburgh explained that the song was inspired by a common name appearing on headstones in a graveyard near his home in New York state.


In addition to the band’s trusty rock trio of Dan Miller on guitar, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Marty Beller on drums, TMBG was augmented by an equally excellent brass trio featuring Dan Levine on trombone, Mark “Loveman” Pender on trumpet, and Stan Harrison on saxophone. The loopy “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was extended with a suspense-building saxophone intro by Stan Harrison and a dazzling solo by Pender, who held a single note for minutes with the tricky technique of circular breathing. The brass section elevated fare, including “Hot Cha.”

Photo by Jeff Elbel

As usual, a big part of the fun was the unscripted comical banter between Flansburgh and Linnell, delivered like school-aged friends with the goal of seeing who could make the other crack up first. “We have other albums besides Flood,” said Flansburgh after the band bounded through the album’s “Your Racist Friend.” “We lost track somewhere after Lincoln, though,” responded Linnell. Flansburgh tried asking when the evening’s show was originally supposed to take place and after countless unintelligible shouts, suggested a response on the count of three. Upon still hearing nonsense, he announced, “Look, They Might Be Giants has worked with a lot of audiences, and you guys could really use some rehearsal.” He was more sincere when thanking patrons who arrived masked per the band’s request.

As promised, the band performed the bulk of Flood and received lively singalongs from the crowd for each entry, including deeper album cuts like “Whistling in the Dark” and “Road Movie to Berlin.”

Highlights from TMBG’s other 22 albums included Linnell’s effervescent “Doctor Worm” and Flansburgh’s swinging romp through possible inside joke “Let Me Tell You About My Operation.” The irrepressible “Ana Ng” from 1988’s Lincoln was a long-distance dedication to a counterpart on the other side of the world. Flansburgh’s ringing guitar launched a cathartic romp through “Don’t Let’s Start” from TMBG’s self-titled debut.

During “Older” and its portentous statement on the cruel and relentless march of time, Linnell paused to take a phone call. “Hello, you’ve reached They Might Be Giants,” he said. “How may I help you?” The caller was Flansburgh, with his back turned to the audience. He claimed that TMBG had totally gotten him through the ‘90s and identified himself as Ron DeSantis. After the catcalls and boos from the audience had subsided, the caller clarified. “Not that Ron DeSantis, though.”

TMBG trades on its reputation for being clever, but occasionally the band outdoes itself. On Thursday, Flansburgh announced that the band had learned to play a song entirely backward, and TMBG was going to bring the crowd into the act. Linnell had the crowd cheer as if they’d just heard their favorite song, and then the band proceeded to play a mystifying song of strange licks, odd gestures, strong vocal harmony, and ending with Linnell’s spoken-in-reverse “introduction.” At the end of the band’s intermission, a film of the song was played in reverse. It was revealed to be an impressively discernible performance of Flood track “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love.”

The band’s big finish drew a boisterous crowd singing for Flood’s gleefully morose “Dead,” the self-referential “Theme from Flood,” and the stalwart pop of charting single “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” TMBG encored with “She’s an Angel” from its 1986 debut and the indignant “When Will You Die” from 2011’s Join Us. “Are there crimes that you have never committed?,” sang Linnell. “I doubt it.” The show may have focused on one album overall, but the set touched on a dozen more. The band’s staying power and breadth weren’t lost on the audience. “You guys are really good,” came a matter-of-fact statement from the balcony, drawing a laugh from Linnell. Flansburgh sent love and thanks to TMBG’s steadfast fans as the band finally completed its show, just a bit over two years tardy but worth the wait.

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