They Might Be Giants @ Union Transfer, Philadelphia, US, 12th January 2023

Jan 15, 2023
By Matthew Berlyant
Photography by Matthew Berlyant
Web Exclusive

In a forty-plus year career full of unusual endeavors that have come to fruition, They Might Be Giants can count this tour, and by extension this show, as yet another wildly successful one. Originally scheduled for 2020 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their landmark third album Flood (their only album to be certified platinum) and rescheduled for spring 2022 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these dates had to be rescheduled YET AGAIN when John Flansburgh got into a serious car accident last spring. Fully recuperated and downright raring to go, one could tell that Flansburgh, other main man John Linell and the rest of the band had kinetic energy to spare.

Instead of playing Flood in full, they interspersed the album’s 19 songs into two main sets (the show featured no opening act, likely a relief for the older, mostly die-hard fans who packed Union Transfer to the gills in what was the most sold out I’d seen it in a long time, perhaps since M83 all the way back in 2012 when “Midnight City” was just starting to become a worldwide smash hit) along with other material from their many other records, all of which flowed seamlessly from one song to the rest. Of note as well is their otherworldly stage banter, taking full breaks between songs to mimic symphony orchestras and pausing to show sincere gratitude to their dedicated fans in light of all the obstacles in bringing the show on the road.

In not playing the album from start to finish and instead curating a career-spanning evening around their most well-known and celebrated work that could simultaneously please both die-hards as well as casual fans there to just hear “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and relive their college days,, the Two Johns reminded this reviewer of one of their biggest heroes, Elvis Costello, who did something similar in 2016-2017 when he toured his incredible 1982 album Imperial Bedroom, but under the banner of “Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers” where he would combine songs from Imperial Bedroom alongside similar-sounding and similarly-themed selections from many of his other albums like Armed Forces, Trust, and others.

The highlights were many, from Flood chestnuts like “We Want a Rock,” “Lucky Ball and Chain” and The Special AKA-inspired and unfortunately timely “Your Racist Friend” to a rousing rendition of even older material like their first single “Don’t Let Start” and the darker “When Will You Die” from their 2011 album Join Us.

Even after two sets (each set was split up with a twenty-minutes break between sets) and an encore, all of which comprised almost two-and-a-half hours, the show still felt like it ended too early and that they could’ve played more. What a fun night and what a triumphant return to the live stage!

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