It was a real “Tuesday night super rock special,” as They Might Be Giants singer John Flansburgh put it, as the group played two stellar sets in front of a sold out crowd last night at the Beachland Ballroom. “In the real world, people have to pay actual money for things,” Flansburgh joked with the crowd as he did a short sales pitch for the band’s new album Glean
. “So we’d really appreciate it if you bought our new record.”
After opening with “Can’t Keep Johnny Down,” Flansburgh and the other “John,” John Linnell playfully stood down a packed room of Cleveland’s hippest geeks like only the hippest geeks could. In the tantalizing but simple opening set, the band played a few songs from Glean
, including the artfully-rocked-out “Answer,” and paired them alongside blasts-from-the-past like “Number Three,” from their 1986 self-titled debut. A stomping take on “Older” picked from 1999’s Long Tall Weekend
, had the, well, “older” crowd singing along. Although TMBG have obviously picked up their share of fans over the past decade alone, numerous fans at last night’s show probably dated back to the band’s beginning in the mid-’80s.
The abundant use of cell phones at the show was rather astonishing. Is there something about TMBG fans that drives them to spend nearly the entirety of a perfectly good rock show on Instagram? The band took a few jabs at those recording nearly every song they played. After a 20-minute “coffee break,” the band returned with “You’re On Fire” from 2013’s Nanobots
. The light show illuminating the two Johns and their skilled live band featured cartoonish pinks and greens, all against an ever-changing, sometimes-black-and-white video screen. At times, the camera feed projected onto the hanging curtains went from displaying the audience to showing the band up close and personal. The band powered through the rest of the set, tearing through fan favorites such as “Dead,” “James K. Polk” and “Alphabet of Nations,” illustrating just how many spectacled people must drive around in theirs car singing the names of various foreign countries.
TMBG ended the second set with a bleary-eyed version of “Ana Ng,” a fan-favorite and a surefire demonstration of the “deep sadness” that the Johns joked about their music containing. The encore featuring “Mammal” and “Robot Parade” gave TMBG fans all the delectably intellectual sadness they could ever want.