Latin Grammys 2018

They Might Be Giants / Feb. 28, 2009 / New York (Le Poisson Rouge)

Track Review
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Alt-rock mainstays They Might Be Giants are having a rather nice start to 200: they won their second Grammy in February for the kids album “Here Come the 123s,” have a song prominently featured in the magically excellent stop-motion film “Coraline,” and performed live on one of the last episodes of "Late Night with Conan O’Brien" (finishing as the band with the most appearances on that show).

And as the ultimate fan- and now family-friendly rock act, John Flansburgh, John Linnell and crew have taken up a hometown residency at Greenwich Village club Le Poisson Rouge for a “Rent Party” on the last Saturday of every month, often performing two shows -- a family show of mostly children’s music in the afternoon, and a nighttime concert for 18+. To mix up the ongoing run for repeat customers, the Feb. 28 evening show was a performance of TMBG’s 1990 album “Flood” in its entirety, a treat that Flansburgh noted on stage was reserved only for New York audiences, adding “except that we did it once in Amherst, Massachusetts.”

Irish electro-pop duo Oppenheimer opened to a warm reception from TMBG fans, moving efficiently through an instantly agreeable, energetic set made even more interesting by its economy of resources. Drummer Shaun Robinson is also the lead vocalist, and guitarist/keyboardist Rocky O’Reilly did double duty via liberal use of pre-programmed tracks.

When They Might Be Giants took the stage 20 minutes later, it was evident that a small-venue residency was an ideal move even for this veteran band with up to eight members, including horns. TMBG has always been about we’re-all-nerds-here simpatico, and the Johns’ comfortable yet enthusiastic familiarity on stage is what keeps fans returning to live events.

The band warmed up with an eight-song set of non-“Flood” songs, including several from 2007’s “The Else,” “Doctor Worm” from 1998’s “Severe Tire Damage” and “Seven” from “Here Come the 1-2-3s,” which the crowd embraced as fully as any of TMBG’s ostensibly adult material (even grown-ups will take any excuse to shout “We want cake! Where’s our cake?” repeatedly).

Moving into the 19 sequential tracks from “Flood," the show naturally compromised the standard set-list guessing-game excitement, but TMBG found ways to enhance well-known songs on their most popular album (“Flood” is certified gold and has sold 783,000 units in the U.S. since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991).

Most notable was Dan Miller’s five-minute flamenco guitar solo leading into the band’s famous cover of the Four Lads’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” a vigorous and nuanced Spanish interpretation of the song’s Eastern theme. Not every attempt to insert unpredictability was as successful, though -- “Particle Man” went a bit off the rails when Linnell detoured into the Guess Who’s “Clap for the Wolfman,” with the result that only about three audience members were familiar with the appropriate clapping response. There were also times at which Linnell appeared to flub a lyric or two, but fan and band energy remained high throughout, supported in no small part by the three-piece Tricerachops Horns, who have accompanied many of TMBG’s live shows since 2007.

After the wistful saunter of “Flood” closer “Road Movie To Berlin,” the obligatory encore included a cover of Ellie Greenwich’s “Maybe I Know” with only vocal duet and accordion -- a tribute, as Flansburgh explained, to TMBG’s days as starving Brooklyn street performers and the fortuitous afternoon when Greenwich’s aunt happened to pass by as they sang the song and gave them a $20.

Though the sound at Le Poisson Rouge could use some tweaking and the room configuration and stage height are less than ideal for visibility, the venue’s intimate size and central location are spot-on to repeatedly host a band whose shows are more gathering than spectacle. The next They Might Be Giants performances at Le Poisson Rouge are March 28 at 4 p.m. (all ages) and 8 p.m. (18+). There's more info at www.lepoissonrouge.com