09.08.2011 They Might Be Giants at Toad’s Place, New Haven

As a fan of 80s alternative music, I have been lucky enough to see some of the biggest bands of the genre. I have seen R.E.M., Violent Femmes, Love and Rockets, and Pixies all grace the stage. However, Thursday night was my first time ever seeing They Might Be Giants. The legendary group seems to hit Connecticut every tour, yet somehow I have always missed them. With their new album, Join Us, garnering a fair amount of critical and commercial success, it seemed like the perfect time to catch the band.

Never having seen the band before, I was not sure exactly what to expect. What was delivered was a set list drawn mainly from two sources: the band’s greatest hits and their new album, Join Us. The band played 10 songs from Join Us which comprised almost one-third of their set. When a band has long and storied of a history as They Might Be Giants, to play so much of a new album always sets a weird mood. The vast majority of the crowd seemed to not know those particular songs.

So that leaves us with the other two-thirds of the set. The rest of the set relied heavily on track from Flood and Lincoln. The band played “Your Racist Friend” early on and got “Ana Ng” out of the way fairly early, within the first six songs. Seven songs later, they played “Birdhouse in Your Soul” as if they were trying to evenly disperse their most well-known songs instead of going out in flourish. Their ending flourish included playing “Don’t Let’s Start” to kick off their first encore which also included “Particle Man.” The band came out for a second encore which included closing with “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

But the set list is only a small part of They Might Be Giants’ show. The band’s live show is like watching a variety show. John Flansburgh acted as the host of the comedy portion of the show. He poked fun at his own seersucker jacket and the faux pas of wearing it after labor day. He, also, took the initiative to split the crowd in half, one half being humans and the others being apes to play “Battle For The Planet of the Apes.” Perhaps the oddest portion of the show was when both Johns took up sock puppets and projected a sock puppet TV show on the backdrop. I felt like a lot of the audience got lost during this portion of the program.

Whether the onstage antics were hit or miss, they provided some entertainment. I can not help but think that they also took away from the music. There is an old adage: less talk, more rock. The rock certainly got lost in a flurry of talk that went far beyond the normal in between song banter. As I exited the show, I heard one member of the crowd say “that was so weird” and I couldn’t help but agree. The band went on a 10pm but I could not help but feel like it was a children’s show.