Thursday, October 15, 2009

They Might Not Be Giants After All

I went to see They Might Be Giants at the Pageant last weekend. There were sock puppets. There was a confetti canon. One of my favorite albums was played in its entirety. So why wasn't it a better show?

I've seen TMBG before, back when they were promoting The Spine, and I found them pretty relentlessly entertaining with their on-stage antics and their near-constant berating of the audience. They seem to have acknowledged that nobody really cares about their new material anymore, so for this tour, they promised to play their most highly-regarded work, Flood in sequence, in its entirety. There would be a few breaks for "the telethon", or some such (never did quite catch that joke). In short, they made a pretty hefty promise with this show.

Let's start with the opening act: two Irish boys who sang folksy love songs with a guitar. The music was solidly okay, just North of mediocre. If they had been Jon Secada, they could have done all right with those songs in the 90's. They did completely undermine their penultimate number. It had a build towards the end in which the line "Let's get naked and get under the sheets" is repeated eight times, but before starting the song, the singer told us a story about his nephew hearing that song and singing "Let's get naked and get under the sheep". Good story, but when it came song-time, I couldn't think about anything other than sheep during that would-be emotional climax of the song.

On to TMBG. They started pretty strong, playing a few numbers before launching into Flood. But right from the get-go, there were sound issues. John Linnell's vocal was too low, and I don't think I could ever hear Flansburgh's guitar. Besides the sound issues, there were a number of technical problems, not the least of which was that they botched the set list.

After Dead, they took their first break (for sock puppets) and came back and started with Someone Keeps Moving My Chair. Which means they skipped four songs: Your Racist Friend, Particle Man, Twistin', and We Want a Rock. They remembered them throughout the show and so they were peppered across the set rather than actually being played in sequence. It's not a big deal, I know. It didn't ruin the show for me. But it's indicative of the kind of amateurish mistakes that went on during the rest of the show. From their banter, it seemed like the set list had been printed wrong prior to the show's start. But nobody caught that? Even when they announced the sixth song (out of nineteen) as the start of "side 2", nobody stopped to say "wait, that can't be right"?

At one point Flansburgh commented that the only way the show could have been more awkward was if they had played in their pajamas.

The other problem I had was that the arrangements differed pretty wildly from what's on the album. I understand that certain songs that have been played to death are going to feel a bit stale and change over the years--I get that. And I also realize Flood was recorded when the band was playing along with a tape; it was never meant to be played live with, you know, instruments.

Still, it's my opinion that they veered to far off course. Sometimes they would sing missing instrumental parts, sometimes they would skip sections of songs, and what their sax player actually played when called upon to play never resembled what had been there on the recording.

It may sound like I'm nitpicking, but I'm not the only one who felt a little disappointed. By the second encore, I think everyone around us was just ready for the show to be over.

And I guess it's most frustrating because I know they're capable of putting on a better performance than that. Oh well.

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