Wednesday, September 28, 2011

They Might Be Giants / Jonathan Coulton - Live 2011.09.24

The third in a series of awesome concerts at the Pageant over a four-day period.

Artist: They Might Be Giants
Venue: The Pageant
Location: Saint Louis, Missouri
Date: September 24, 2011
Opening Act: Jonathan Coulton

Setlist:
01. Dead
02. Can't Keep Johnny Down
03. Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas) [Tom Glazer cover]
04. Particle Man
05. Meet James Ensor
06. St. Louis (aka Mississippi Nights) (tease)
07. Hollywood (aka Los Angeles or West Hollywood House of Blues)
08. Turn Around
09. Celebration
10. Don't Let's Start
11. Your Racist Friend
12. Cloisonné
13. Crazy Train (tease) [Ozzy Osbourne cover]
14. "Epic Fail Baloney Sandwich" (performed by the Avatars of They)
15. Spoiler Alert (performed by the Avatars of They)
16. Crazy Train (second tease) [Ozzy Osbourne cover]
17. Older
18. Alphabet of Nations
19. Old Pine Box
20. Ana Ng
21. Judy Is Your Viet Nam
22. We Live in a Dump
23. Birdhouse in Your Soul
24. Withered Hope
25. Clap Your Hands
26. Battle for the Planet of the Apes
27. The Mesopotamians

First Encore:
28. Careful What You Pack
29. Istanbul (Not Constantinople) [The Four Lads cover]

Second Encore:
30. Lie Still, Little Bottle
31. Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes

Review:
When I heard that Jonathan Coulton would be opening for They Might Be Giants, I thought that sounded pretty good. After all, this was a musician who'd written the hilarious outro music to the video game "Portal" and who is known for having an internet-aware sense of humor theoretically comparable to They themselves. Coulton came out alone wearing a strange contraption strapped around him as if it were a guitar. It was in fact a Zendrum, a type of MIDI controller which he uses to sample the parts of his oddball song "Mr. Fancy Pants". The song was mildly humorous and the performance was great, but I probably didn't appreciate it the way some others may have (the individuals near me flew into an ecstatic fit of shouting and hollering, perhaps inspired by a large dose of alcohol).

However, after the one rather unique performance, Coulton put down the Zendrum and picked up a guitar, at which point he was joined by drummer Marty Beller (who also plays with TMBG) and bassist Chris Anderson. The band proceeded to then play five or six songs, mostly of a rather bland punk-pop style. I know Coulton is famed for his wit, but I could hardly understand his lyrics (probably the fault of the mixing and not himself) and the music really didn't do anything for me. He did perform "Still Alive" from the aforementioned "Portal" game, which was perhaps the only standout song. The live rendition didn't have the same complexity and depth as the recorded version, but it had a bit more energy and spirit, which carried it along fairly well.

They Might Be Giants (nominally just John Linnell and John Flansburgh) were joined by drummer Marty Beller and bassist Danny Weinkauf. Oddly, the usual fifth member (guitarist Dan Miller) was not present. The band hardly seemed to miss him, as they were able to rock quite well on their own. They ripped through several new songs and a few from their last non-children's album, The Else, and somehow managed to play songs from all sorts of corners of their discography. They played an extended version of the strangely funny and impressive "Alphabet of Nations" from their second children's album and "Hollywood" (aka "Los Angeles", or as it was introduced at the show, "The House of Blues") from the Venue Songs album. They even did a tease of their "St. Louis" venue song in honor of the now defunct Mississippi Nights!

Much of their set leaned on the band's classic material from their early years, roughly equating to their first three albums. Signature rockers like "Ana Ng" and "Don't Let's Start" as well as the quirky hits "Particle Man" and "Birdhouse in Your Soul" went over extremely well. The band might get tired of playing their old standby songs at every show, but the audience adores it, and it does seem like the band tries to play around with the material to keep it interesting. They frequently alter lyrics or play the parts differently than expected (Flansburgh sang the spoken parts of "Why Does the Sun Shine" and "Ana Ng"), which may come from boredom or may come from an obsession with experimentation.

In the middle of the set, the stage went dark and the Johns hid behind a raised bass drum on the side of the stage. They turned on a camera hooked up to a projection screen and held up sock puppets known as the Avatars of They. The segment was actually fairly funny. It was introduced by Marty and Danny playing the infamous riff from "Crazy Train". The sock puppets explained that they now had a corporate sponsor, Epic Fail Baloney Sandwiches. They sang the theme song of the establishment ("Putting baloney in your face since 1972 – it's Epic Fail!") and then did "Spoiler Alert" from the new They album. After another tease of "Crazy Train" the band resumed their "normal" state of affairs.

Flansburgh must have had a bit of a sore throat or something, because he kept drinking and talking about "showbiz tea". Even his avatar was drinking it. It was to the point that he would leave stage in the middle of songs and reappear with another cup of "tea". He did seem to disappear only when he wasn't playing parts, but it seemed extreme. He must have had at least five or six cups. Furthermore, it seemed like Linnell sang the vast majority of the songs. Flans certainly sang lead on several songs, but back in the day it used to be an almost 50-50 split in singing, and that was not the case at this show. Perhaps this is simply the state of the band's newer music. Flansburgh also had a ridiculous mustache that I'm hoping was fake. He was in high spirits but seemed in an odd mood or something. (Maybe there was a special ingredient in his showbiz tea – the Johns joked plenty about hazelnut LSD.)

They Might Be Giants are known for their humorous banter and they certainly did not disappoint. They played nearly thirty songs and somehow still had plenty of time to joke around. They played well and had a full sound even with just the four-person line-up. However, I was disappointed by the minimal use of Linnell's accordion and the relatively limited set of instrumentation in general. Linnell's keyboard can certainly emulate a wide variety of tones, but the only other instrument he brought out was a bass clarinet. Flansburgh kept to his guitar almost exclusively. They didn't even bring out the Stick for "Lie Still, Little Bottle". As such, their newer material was a little hard to distinguish and appreciate as it began to fade into regularity.

I certainly appreciated their encores, which included their classic rendition of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" (although without Dan Miller's typical extended acoustic guitar solo) and the delightfully strange "Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes". Their setlists are always fairly unpredictable and thus fairly fun. I just wish They had been a bit more willing to experiment around on stage and honestly, I think I'd say the same thing about Coulton.

Scores:
Jonathan Coulton: C-
They Might Be Giants: B+

Thanks to This Might Be a Wiki for setlist help and other references.

2 comments:

Ben said...

I think Flansburgh's bad mustache is part of that thing where dudes are hesitant to shave off their ratty beard all at once. He still had the full array of facial hair a couple months ago in that AV Club video I talked about where they cover Chumbawamba: http://www.avclub.com/articles/they-might-be-giants-covers-chumbawamba,53068/

Patrick said...

That's a really weird cover but they definitely did their best to make it their own.

Sorry, John, but the beard is no good.