Thirty-three years and 17 albums later, They Might Be Giants are still at it — crafting art-pop songs with memorable hooks and smartly funny, if very odd, lyrics.
Judging by the large crowd that came out to see them on Wednesday night at Upstate Concert Hall, they’ve still got a devoted base of fans — both newer, younger fans and older diehards who likely have been with TMBG since their early years in the 1980s, when songwriters John Flansburgh and John Linnell formed the band as a duo in New York City..
For their live show, the two Johns have fronted a band since 1994, turning their two-man guitar-accordion-keyboard outfit into a full-fledged rock group, augmented at Upstate Concert Hall by drummer Marty Beller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and electric guitarist Dan Miller.
And rock they did. For all the absurdity of their lyrics and song subjects, TMBG are a mighty live band.
“Our tour manager has brewed the most powerful cup of coffee,” Linnell said, sipping from a cup of Joe after the band opened with the fast-paced “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” and the demented fun-house romp of “Music Jail, Pt. 1 & 2.”
“So prepare for our heads to explode,” added Flansburgh, kicking off a two-set (no opening act) performance that included over 30 songs played in rapid succession with a brief, 15-minute “coffee break” in between sets.
They covered a wide range of career territory in the first set alone, including “The Mesopotamians,” an upbeat theme song for an ancient rock band from the 2007 album “The Else”; “Number Three,” an old-timey bluegrass dirge from TMBG’s 1986 debut; “The Famous Polka,” a frantic accordion-fueled rave-up from 1987; and “Bills, Bills, Bills,” a shameless cover of a Destiny’s Child song, augmented by swirling keyboards and Flansburgh’s campy showmanship.
TMBG’s new album, “Glean,” released just the day before, got quite a bit of play as well, which was just fine because the songs are on par with the rest of their discography. “Answer” was as catchy as anything they’ve ever done, “Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel,” was a period-piece ballad with a preposterous premise, and “Good to Be Alive” was a straight-ahead ode to positivity.
After 33 years together, Flansburgh and Linnell have an unparalleled synergy, and it shows on stage.
Off stage, they are as busy as ever. They made frequent mention of their recently resurrected “Dial-A-Song” service, which will allow fans to call a toll-free number (844-387-6962) to hear a new song per week for the next 12 months, 52 songs in all.
Although the set may have been too light on hits for some — it would have been great to hear “Don’t Let’s Start,” for instance — we did get a scattering of the band’s greatest hits.
“Istanbul,” from TMBG’s “Flood” album, one of the most acclaimed alt-rock albums of all time, was played furiously and closed the first set with a punk cacophony. And the second set finished with a trio of the band’s best-loved songs, including a blazing fast “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas),” a touching version of the glorious “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” and crowd-pleaser “Ana Ng.”