There are fewer alt-rock groups more weird, dorky, and beloved than They Might Be Giants. Their performance in Louisville’s Mercury Ballroom Sunday, March 18th, which capped off this portion of the tour supporting their new record, “I Like Fun,” was a monumentally fun performance indeed. One that’s taken me nearly two weeks to succinctly wrap my head around. They played not one, but two sets, laden with a smorgasbord of eccentric humor, trumpet solos, and witty banter. Damn, was it great.
The first set consisted of a traditional mix of old and new, with frequent stops to chat with the crowd (one anecdote being about their last stop in Louisville, during which they had their license plate stolen). The Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) alternated through some classic tunes like “Ana Ng” and “Whistling in the Dark” and new material such as “I Left My Body” from their latest record. They capped off the first set with a cover of the Destiny’s Child track “Bills, Bills, Bills” (yes, really) and a playfully improvisational version of “Spy” in which Flansburgh orchestrated portions of the band simply by raising and lowering his arms.
The second set kicked off with what they called the “Quiet Storm.” For a good portion of the set they dimmed the lights, put on some storm sound effects, and played stripped back versions of songs with only one backing member instead of the usual three. It felt like huddling around a camp fire with good friends. The laughs rolled freely as Linnell’s accordion hummed. One particular highlight was Flansburgh’s comment after their performance of a quirky, old school tune, “Shoehorn With Teeth:” “Now I don’t know much about music theory but I think that song was in al dente.” Ba dum tss.
The rest of the band eventually made their way back out and the second set with some favorites like “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)” and their cover of the Cub tune “New York City.” The roller coaster really began during the encores. Yes, encores. Plural. Not just two either. Three encores. The first encore composed of the compulsively sing-along-able track “Don’t Let’s Start” from their self-titled record, followed by “Fingertips,” which is essentially 21 entirely different short songs mashed together. Once you got your head back on for the second encore, they pulled out the fan favorites “Particle Man” and “Doctor Worm” the latter of which featured an absolutely scorching trumpet solo. The third encore, the cherry on top, was their most popular song “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
The most shocking aspect of They Might Be Giants’ three-encore finale was that it didn’t irritate the shit out of me like it should have. Not only was I in a great mood, I would have been totally fine if they had kept it going. That’s the wonder of this band. They Might Be Giants’ music is already intoxicatingly fun and lovably weird as is and has been consistently so for over thirty years. But the fact that still killing it to this day is remarkable. The dad jokes, the radical trumpet solos, and the hilarious back-and-forths are just extra on top of the biggest joy: a couple extremely talented musicians and songwriters having a great time. They Might Be Giants are already locked as one of the best alt-rock groups of all time, but their live show serves as a perfect reminder why.