Imagine a radio dial crammed with classic rock stations, the tuner in the impatient hands of a 2-year-old: Songs start abruptly, jump without warning into other songs, detour, derail, devolve and simply stop, instantly replaced by another. This was “Fingertips,” a hyper-compressed pop culture survey, delivered to delirious effect by They Might Be Giants on Saturday night at The Egg.
These guys had every kind of rock and pop at their fingertips, and it was hard to imagine how the afternoon show for youngsters could have been any sillier than the 8 p.m. show for older fans. Some might argue that They Might Be Giants’ humor was calibrated to the middle-school age cohort, and some songs, like “Seven,” about a home invasion by numerals, and “12 Monkeys,” about something similar perpetrated by simians, fit in both shows. But the music was serious even when the words were wacky, and it had both delicious direct-current magnetism and irresistible centrifugal force.
In its restless intelligence and musical mastery, the show recalled vintage Frank Zappa, with a comparable level of competence and tremendous production values — especially the lighting.
Up front were the two Johns, Linnell and Flansburgh, who write and sing everything, backed by drummer Marty Beller, bassist Danny Weinkrauf and guitarist Dan Miller in brilliant all-purpose support.
Before the show even started, crew members charged to the lip of the stage and tossed orange foam rubber hand cutouts to the crowd, drawing everyone frantically forward. When the band came on, they urged everyone to stand and charge to the front, and no one hesitated for a second. The Egg immediately took on the jumping-up-and-down motion of a punk club, perfect for “Particle Man” early on and “Hey, Mr. DJ” and “Letterbox” later.
As wonderfully ridiculous as some songs were, they rigorously avoided camp. In “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” Miller grafted a deafening acoustic guitar crescendo onto the front end, and in “Particle Man,” Linnell injected a mock-maudlin episode of head-scratching strangeness.
“The Mesopotamians” did the same thing but more subtly. The saga of a band rocking in obscurity, it featured fabulous Beach Boys harmonies, sounding so good that the idea of such a band struggling became both sadly ironic and hilarious.
The final encore was really the peak. They started with “The Egg,” written after their 2004 visit here, then went on to the hypnotically catchy “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and the sci-fi nightmare romp “Robot Parade,” powered by odd electronic effects distending Flansburgh’s voice.
They Might Be Giants have a remarkable gift for drawing everyone into their decidedly odd musical world. As arch and strenuously clever as their songs are, they made them inviting and exciting. Few sat down during their nearly two-hour show, and everyone seemed to feel a part of it. When Flansburgh challenged the crowd to chant “Drink! Drink!” in the chorus of brisk waltz “Drink!” they were deafening, singing through their smiles, as the band often did.
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Categories: Life and Arts