They Might Be Giants
Hard Rock Live, Orlando FL • February 28, 2010
Carl F Gauze
Somewhere between the fringes of New Wave and the novelty of School House Rock, we find John Flansburgh (lead guitar) and John Linnell (keys) making music that studiously avoids the tropes of sex, drugs, and debauchery, focusing instead on the Periodic Table and Feynman Diagrams. They Might Be Giants tour for their 14th album Here Comes Science, and while the show is aimed at kids, there’s still enough of that old rock and roll to keep us childless geezers interested. There are two versions of the stage show on parade. The afternoon show I caught aims at the young scientist, while the later shows are more adult oriented, or so I’ve heard. I arrived just as the show started; a flat tire and a long hike through the Universal Studios garageland ate up that pad of time you should always plan on with live music.
The Hard Rock Live was comfortably packed with chairs filling the pit, and strollers and nappies were more in evidence than pink hair or leather metal gear. There was no opening act — the band marched out with little fanfare and launched into their opening number, mostly to get the crowd’s short attention span pointed in the right way. After “I Never Go to Work,” they mentioned that this show was guaranteed to raise your SAT score, and then they wowed the crowd with “Meet the Elements.” It’s a slowed down, more informative sing through the periodic tables than Tom Lehrer’s famous Gilbert and Sullivan cover, but nearly as fun. Somewhere between “One Thousand Monkeys” and “Bed, Bed, Bed”, the guys let loose an air cannon filled with giant confetti, which annoyed the cleanup crew but thrilled the tykes. All through the show, some little girl in the front row gathered up armfuls of colored paper and made her own personal mosh pit.
While the music emphasized the latest album, we heard a few Flood-era hits — “Particle Man” came about halfway through the show, “The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas” near the end, and “Constantinople” was held for the highly anticipated encore. A short internal revolt occurred when two sock puppets calling themselves “The Avatars of Them” hijacked the stage and a video camera to sing “Shooting Star” and “Went For A Walk.” I’m no sock puppet fan, but the audience went slightly wild for the gimmick, along with the two additional confetti blasts.
The audio was less punchy than the studio versions of TMBG’s sound, and while this is common enough, I never really was able to grab onto a song, pump my fist, and sing “Yeah! This ROCKS!” Other Hard Rock shows have sounded brighter, and while the drummer Marty Beller and the Euphonium player worked their butts off, I felt the Johns were taking it easy. Lighting was competent, but again not special — colored LEDs and robot gel lights kept the show bright enough but we spent more than a few songs with the bright whites pointed at the crowd. I liked the new music, but would have liked a few more oldies, and a crisper presentation would help hook the new youth of America on the musical Geek sciences.