Leeds is roughly 3,555 miles away from The Two John’s home district of Brooklyn, but in Leeds Brudenell Social Club this evening, They Might Be Giants are treat as returning heroes from the very moment thy hit the stage. This is TMBG’s second consecutive sold out night at this semi-legendary and utterly no nonsense venue, and it’s evidently a room that they love playing. Looking around at their audience packing out the small but charming club, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that every baby sitter in the Leeds / Bradford conurbation is on double pay tonight.
When an act opens their set with the lead off track from their new album, it’s usually a sign of over confidence in their new material, as their audience inevitably are almost exclusively here for the hits and other old favourites. This is not the case for They Might Be Giants, as “Let’s Get This Over With” is as strong a concert opener as anything they’ve ever penned, seamlessly stitching its knowingly tongue-in-cheek title to a toe-tapping and relentlessly upbeat tune, tailor made to be a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
Actually, one of the things that comes across strongest throughout this evening, is just how much They Might Be Giants understand exactly what their audience want. This is a band with a 35 year history, and in those three and a half decades they have enjoyed both success and commercially lean periods, however their audience is utterly devoted. If you like the music of TMBG, then you go and see them every time they come to town without fail. There is no need for TMBG to over-sell themselves to draw the audience in, simply because they’re already there, fired up and ready to be entertained. TMBG understand what their audience wants, and their audience know that TMBG always deliver. It’s a symbiotic relationship which benefits the band and their fans, so even when there’s a technical snafu during the opening of “Dr Worm”, there is no disappointment or frayed tempers, and the desperate scramble to get the sound up and running again is accepted as part of the evening’s entertainment. For a lesser act it would derail them, for TMBG, this is just a chance to add more audience pleasing antics.
They Might Be Giants are consummate professionals, and so well drilled as a live act that they don’t have to hide behind any presentational bells and whistles that might detract from the tunes. Tonight is about performance, appreciation and entertainment, and The Two Johns evidently have utter faith in the rest of the band that they will deliver. The line up of Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf and Marty Beller has been well established since 2004, and on this tour they are ably supplemented by brass player Curt Ramm. The core trio have long been the secret weapons of the TMBG sound, an adaptable ensemble able to turn themselves to any style of pop music required by the Two Johns. The guitar interplay between Miller and John Flansburgh hints that if TMBG ever decided that they were going to be a guitar-heavy rock act, then they could do so with almost minimal effort. Weinkauf, despite the technical issues with his bass feed meaning that it cut out entirely at one point, remains a cool head with charisma to burn. Ramm is a new addition to the line up, a hugely gifted horn player, who gives the band the added confidence required to explore some sonic territories that stray closer to jazz than you might expect from a band that are all too frequently considered a novelty act by those who know little of their work outside their best known song. Marty Beller’s drumming is next level awesome in a live setting, channelling Rush’s Neil Peart and adding the type of relentless swing that only a drummer at the absolute top their game can provide. This line up of They Might Be Giants are six musicians comfortable in the knowledge that each of their bandmates are they very best at what they do, and that helps radiate the relaxed confidence and sense of warmth emanating from the stage.
With a sprawling songbook, They Might Be Giants have an embarrassment of riches from which to draw their set list from, and tonight they touch down at all points during their career, from early highlights like “Ana Ng” and “Don’t Let’s Start”, via a healthy serving of tracks from Flood and Apollo 18, as well as recent highlights from their re-launched Dial-a-Song service. Sure, there might be personal favourites that they omit – neither “Bangs” or “I Should Be Allowed to Think” are given an outing this evening, and their cover of “Bills, Bills, Bills” will have to wait until next time I see them – but no one is complaining. A hugely prolific act, particularly in recent years, TMBG could feasibly draw up a dozen different set lists without repeating a song, and each would be bursting with an embarrassing amount of truly great pop music from one of the great unsung acts of alternative rock.
Throughout tonight The Two Johns demonstrate an easy and unfussy way of connecting with their audience, and one of the things that strikes you the first time you see TMBG live, is how much their audience genuinely love them. There’s no such thing as a fair weather TMBG fan. Once you’re into them, you’re into them for life, as demonstrated by the rapturous reception they receive from the moment they arrive on stage, and that continues until they close their second encore with “Dead”. Sure, their audience is of a definitive demographic (broadly 35-50, at least college educated, generally liberal), and some of that audience are particularly well refreshed this evening (“I’m going to drink like it’s the 90s again!” was the declaration made by one of the ladies stood close to me, before she spent the rest of the evening demonstrating a series of surprisingly energetic freestyle dance moves), though ultimately there is nothing but positive vibes of adoration bouncing off the walls of Brudenell Social Club tonight. Everyone here tonight is here to see a band they love, and They Might Be Giants reassuring lack of ego and pomposity make this a night to remember, simply because great music is being played by great musicians to an appreciative audience.
Tonight They Might Be Giants remind us that as long as you have the material, musical skill and connection with your audience, then you don’t need to provide any distracting bells and whistles to try and mask your short comings. There is no pretention or smoke and mirrors with TMBG, tonight is simply about great music being enjoyed purely because it is entertaining.