They Might Be Giants | Cat's Cradle | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
This is a past event.

They Might Be Giants 

When: Thu., Jan. 18, 9 p.m. 2018
Price: $28

In 1982, the same year that R.E.M. debuted with Chronic Town and launched a long and proud career, John Flansburgh and John Linnell began their foray into the music business as They Might Be Giants via a telephonic service called Dial-a-Song. At the time, it would have been hard to imagine that these future fathers of geek rock—with their setup of guitar, sax, accordion, and nasally vocals—would outlast the future kings of jangle pop, not to mention nearly all their early-eighties contemporaries.

But in hindsight this longevity makes sense, considering the singularity of the band's voluminous catalog (the band's twentieth record, I Like Fun, is out this week), the DIY spirit that made them objects of swift fascination in New York City using nothing but a balky answering machine to transmit their songs to the world, and the savvy pivot they made toward the kids' market in the 2000s.

What does it take to be considered geek rock? Glasses are surely called for—and Flansburgh has often favored geek-issue horn-rims, but beyond the look, it's songs about Belgian painters, constellations, and palindromes; it's a penchant for herky-jerky, stop-start cadences, and an omnipresent adenoidal-ness that define the genre TMBG invented. They transcend novelty through ingeniously constructed songs, packed with detail, where stupid-catchy meets Mensa-level wordplay ("Life is a placebo/masquerading as a simile").

But if there's an egregious braininess at work, there's also a pronounced streak of mischief, which shows through both in the music and in world-class videos for songs like "Anna Ng," the band's first hit. That aspect made its progression into kids' music a natural development. But as easy as it may be to write them off as brainy dudes making brainy pop for brainy folks and their offspring, that would miss their underlying humanity and sincere wonder at the world and its infinite strangeness.

During their major-label period in the nineties, TMBG delivered a certifiable hit with "Birdhouse in Your Soul," and songs like "I Love You for Psychological Reasons" from 2016's Phone Power show that the ability to write deft and deeply catchy pop fare is undiminished by time. Now a full-fledged band and seasoned live act, the band hasn't strayed too far from its roots, as the recently revived Dial-a-Song shows. On a stage packed with pros, armed with a truckload of well-loved songs, and a packed house, these Giants should be all smiles. —David Klein

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