They Might Be Giants @ The Depot 06.08

Posted June 11, 2013 in

(L-R) John Linnell and John Flansburgh cranked out 30 songs for TMBG's set last Saturday, June 8. Photo: Gavin Sheehan

Leading up to this concert, I heard a lot about how people either dislike or “don't get” They Might Be Giants, which is a shame because in an era where indie rock is starting to reign supreme again, you'd think there'd be a lot more music-critic love for a band of this caliber coming through town. When it comes right down to it, TMBG know how to put on a show for the fans, not just diehards or people who barely discovered them—everyone, to the point where the audience themselves become part of the performance. So it was no surprise (and a genuine relief to a longtime SLC concert attendee) to see a room full of people excited to be at a show.

The evening kicked off with Washington D.C.–based indie-folk act Vandaveer. The band came out modestly and immediately started playing soft, melodic melodies, made up of nothing more than two guitars, a stomping board and their voices. Lead singer and guitarist Mark Charles Heidinger would take breaks between the songs to chat with the audience, noting that, usually, they play shows made up of “17 to 18 people,” and was admittedly overwhelmed by the response from the TMBG fans in SLC, frequently joking the he was going to call and say, “We're big in Salt Lake, Mom.”
Playing off each other's strengths, Heidinger and singer Rosie Guerin mostly stuck to tunes off their brand new album: Oh, Willie, Please... its theme being rustic songs about murder, to which the SLC crowd cheered, earning us the unofficial labeling of being “macabre” from the group. Songs like “Pretty Polly” and “Poor Edward” set the tone for their set, putting a mournful yet beautiful take on songs more suited for a dirge, earning the respect of the audience who had mostly shown up hoping for a one-band show. They closed out their set with the song “Roman Candle” off of their 2007 record Grace & Speed, leaving some in the audience to cry for an encore. They were a very folky but pleasant surprise.
In lightning quick speed for a band with multiple instruments, TMBG took the stage and immediately dove into the hits to get the crowd bouncing, zooming through “When Will You Die,” “New York City,” and “Ana Ng” to big singalong moments. Throughout the night, they would switch around from classics like “Birdhouse In Your Soul” to back-catalog tunes such as “James K. Polk” and “S-E-X-X-Y” with ease, and peppering in new hits from their current album, Nanobots, like “Combustible Head” and “Tesla.” John Flansburgh constantly moved around the stage with his arsenal of guitars, only staying still to switch off singing duties with John Linnell, who commanded the keyboard along with his trusty accordion and the oboe.
But the thing that truly makes a TMBG show is improvisation and audience interaction. Before kicking into the new album's title track, “Nanobots,” Flansburgh chatted with Linnell in a robot voice about all the calls that “Robot-Flansburgh” and the NSA had been listening in on. The duo switched mid-show to for a performance from the Avatars Of They, a pair of sock puppets whose oxygen is applause and are completely insane, taking on tasks like writing Two And A Half Men fan fiction. At one point, the backup band left the stage as they played a couple songs by themselves, including an improvised version of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” Some of the biggest pops of the night came from big singalong numbers like “Doctor Worm” and “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head,” where anyone standing at least 20 feet out knew every lyric by heart, not to mention an entire section dedicated to solo performances from the backup players, which included a well-deserved standing ovation for drummer Marty Beller.
By the end of the night, the group cranked out nearly 30 songs, which included two encores, all for the love of the crowd. TMBG even brought back their audience games, long ago abandoned when they started doing kids albums, which included dividing the crowd in half (with a physical gap in the room) and having each side yell “people” and “apes” at each other. The band left the stage genuinely exhausted and loving every minute of it. TMBG came in to give fans their money's worth, and outdid themselves far better than in previous appearances they've made in SLC.
(L-R) John Linnell and John Flansburgh cranked out 30 songs for TMBG's set last Saturday, June 8. Photo: Gavin Sheehan John Flansburgh bounced around onstage during TMBG's set. Photo: Gavin Sheehan John Linnell of TMBG spoke with SLUG last week in an exclusive interview. Photo: Gavin Sheehan Mark Charles Heidinger of Vandaveer led his band to be "big in SLC, Mom." Photo: Gavin Sheehan Rosie Guerin of Vandaveer helped endear the SLC crowd. Photo: Gavin Sheehan