by Jeff Niesel
Though they had a couple of commercial radio hits in the ’90s, that’s not why the indie rock duo They Might be Giants has survived for the past 30 years. They’ve survived because they’ve done things on their own terms. That DIY attitude was on full display last night before a sold out crowd at the Beachland Ballroom. During a two-hour performance, the band — singer-multi-instrumentalist John Linnell and singer-guitarist John Flansburgh plus three touring musicians — drew from a wide range of material that included both the obvious (1990’s “Birdhouse in Your Soul”) and the obscure (“Fingertips,” a 21-song suite of short songs from their 1992 album Apollo 18). They relentlessly broke into banter throughout the show, commenting on the gymnasium-like quality of the ballroom. They put on a sock puppet show, and they played a game with the audience that involved making up nicknames for patrons that they identified with a spotlight. As a result, the show was a constantly entertaining hodgepodge of music and mayhem.
A good portion of the twentysomething songs the band played focused on material from their new album, Nanobots. The band opened with the punchy “You’re on Fire” and then proceeded to mix things up, offering ‘60s garage pop with “Call You Mom” and delivering a jazz groove on “Cloisonne.” Nerdy power pop tunes such “Circular Karate Chop” and “S-E-X-X-Y” went over best. Even when playing “Birdhouse,” a song it has played countless times, the band performed with real exuberance and the two Johns displayed the kind of camaraderie that carried over with the three back-up musicians that filled out the touring band. The bright LED lights and occasional video montages nicely accentuated the music, too. The duo started the first of two encores with “Tesla,” a narrative of sorts about the man who “brought x-ray photo to the world,” and then as a closer offered its quirky pop hit “Mesopotamians,” introducing it as “a song about a Middle Eastern rock band” and reveling in the indie pop weirdness that they’ve essentially trademarked.