Review: They Might Be Giants give Greater Cincinnati fans a rare treat, playing 'Flood' in its entirety

Befitting TMBG's offbeat reputation, their recent Madison Theater show included a set in which the band played every track from their landmark 1990 album, but in reverse order.

Apr 24, 2018 at 11:52 am
click to enlarge They Might Be Giants at Madison Theater (April 17) - Photo: Hannah Wilson
Photo: Hannah Wilson
They Might Be Giants at Madison Theater (April 17)

They Might Be Giants have aged well, musically and physically. John Linnell (skinny John) looks exactly the same as when the band started. Save for a touch of gray, John Flansburgh has also hardly aged. Perhaps it’s because they have always been old souls in a way, and only now is time catching up with them.

On this tour, the Giants have taken the liberty of opening for themselves. An hour of tunes, an intermission, and another hour of tunes, in an almost Springsteen-like marathon. The Tri-State audience, though, got a slightly different set than most other markets. 

Most shows consisted of tunes from their new album — I Like Fun, their 20th (!) — mixed with catalog tracks and split between the two sets. For Greater Cincinnati fans at TMBG's April 17 show at Covington's Madison Theater, the first half of the concert matched that approach, but for the second half, the group played their landmark 1990 album Flood in its entirety, but in reverse order.

Though it might have been an effort to sell out the show (their local stop was one of only a few concerts that didn't sell out well in advance), perhaps the rare "full album" performance was given in Greater Cincinnati as a nod to late, legendary local Alternative station (and fervent TMBG boosters from the start) WOXY/97X, the rise and success of which paralleled the band's. Indeed, several 97X shirts were spotted in the crowd. A nearly packed house at the Madison seemed to enjoy the special set, with most seeming to know every word to every song from Flood. After the Flood set, the encores consisted of older tracks “Fingertips,” “How Can I Sing Like a Girl?” and “Dr. Worm,” an excellent finale that gave the duo's entire band a chance to really shine.

Unfortunately, the added songs from Flood meant some “hits” that were played in other towns had to be left off, including tracks like “Ana Ng,” “Purple Toupee,” and “Shoehorn with Teeth.” On the upside, the newer tracks, particularly the single, “I Left My Body,” sounded great and seemed to indicate that there’s still gas left in the TMBG songwriting tank.

Musically, the Johns and their backing band were flawless as usual. Linnell, of course, handles most of the lead vocals, with Flansburgh taking a few numbers. During “New York City,” Flansburgh sang lead and sounded almost reserved in the verses, as if he were trying to save his voice. However, he smashed it at the end and did the same on the vocal bridge of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” Another odd aspect: Linnell only brought out his accordion for a few songs, preferring instead to use a keyboard and, occasionally, a saxophone. But even that couldn't water down the quirkiness.