Live at The National in Richmond, VA 3/11/10
By Bob Adamek
The National in Richmond, Virginia was built in 1923 and has played host to some premier acts since its recent reopening. Thursday night was no exception as the wonderfully idiosyncratic, They Might Be Giants, rolled their smart and artsy, visually and intellectually stimulating show into town. It took a full eighteen wheel truck and large tour bus to carry all the trappings of what was a most memorable and funny show.
John Flansburgh and John Linnell, sometimes known as “the Johns”, released their first album together, the self titled They Might Be Giants, in 1986. That is a long time to be a creative partner with someone, and judging by their performance last Thursday night, they still get along great and really seem to have no bottom to their creative pool. Their music is smartly designed ear candy and their lyrics are a combination of songs that have a delightfully wry wit and songs whose words just sound great together, sprinkled with funny or absurd imagery.
Flansburgh and Linnell really made this night’s performance seem unique. They would banter to each other in between songs and had a quick witted repartee with the audience. At one point during a song, they were both singing and Linnell had to turn away to briefly cough. When the song was over, Flansburg informed the audience that they were now going to start paying homage to the cultures of India and Africa by coughing regularly during their songs. When Linnell stopped laughing, he remarked that the next 25 years of They Might Be Giants would be marked by more and more coughing. After a cheer from the audience, Linnell said he is happy we approve of their new direction.
The show was a multi sensory smorgasbord of sound, lights, and confetti. The stage was designed with many different kinds of lights interspersed with well placed objects to reflect the light, creating a multi textured display of color. A large confetti cannon blasted the audience several times during the show, showering them with colorful confetti that nearly reached the back row of the balcony. The musical feature of the night was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their landmark 1990 album, Flood. John Flansburg announced that on this night the album would be played in reverse order and Linnell quipped that 1990 was the dawn of the CD era, and 2010 is the end of the CD era.
As if this wasn’t enough to overload the senses, about halfway through the album, the Johns went behind a kick drum and as the stage grew dark, they donned sock puppets on their hands. With a lone light shining on the puppets, they did a couple of songs with the video of it appearing on a big screen at the back of the stage. In between those songs one of the puppets smartly quipped that they would be playing the entire Lincoln album. At the end of the puppet show the rest of the band launched into a great take on the 1973 Edgar Winter hit Free Ride.
The night included many other classics from the band’s considerable repertoire, such as the 19 song block from the 1992 album Apollo 18, Fingertips, as well as other songs such as The Guitar, Don’t Let’s Start, Why Does The Sun Shine? and a version of Road Movie To Berlin which included a new verse. I had seen the band several times in the late 80’s and early 90’s and was struck by the thing that has not changed in all of that time, their passion for delivering a great show. They are a creative and artistic force, and completely worth your time to see.