From the outset, if we can agree to refer to They Might Be Giants as ‘TMBG’ then it would be as tight, efficient, slick and punchy as the band’s stage show. Tonight they are warmly welcomed by a fanatical following who sadly only half-fill Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall. Therein we are treated to two sets; “an hour of the songs you love and later some more of the ones you hate…followed by a blues jam until everyone leaves”.
Johns Linsell and Flansburgh have been plying their stock trade in witty, catchy narrative pop relentlessly for almost four decades. The same energy that results in a prolific workrate propels them through a performance that seems to fly by. Still though, a set clocking in at well over two and a half hours comprises countless songs largely lasting little over two and a half minutes.
To the point, we hear early 45s Ana Ng and Don’t Let’s Start whose spiky guitars still channel Split Enz singles and their covers of Istanbul and Why Does the Sun Shine? are burnt through at tremendous pelt. Even the ever tuneful Birdhouse in Your Soul is sped up and deconstructed as quickly as it builds. This follows Linnell’s story of having been recognised by a far-flung passport officer who proceeded to whistle the same tune to him. The Flood gates open to a furious flow of favourites from their most revered album, yet none stretched out into anthem territory as other artists may be tempted to.
Particle Man, Dead and Whistling in the Dark are breezed through amidst plenty of other between song banter, a two-way dialogue enjoyed as much by the band as the crowd throughout the show. With smiles across their faces, TMBG consult and confide in us like old friends. Thoughts on Lothian Trams, loathing Trump; both our governments and our very own Proclaimers are all indulged.
Those at the back, oddly seated around tables as if awaiting an awards ceremony are happily instructed to stand up; few sit down again. Intermittently, the music continues to pique and peaks repeatedly as it runs sporadically through their catalogue and back again.
New material is claimed to be unrehearsed as Flansburgh quips “this song’s so new we don’t even know who plays which instrument”, as they do seem to be swapped at will. The Communists Have the Music only recently aired on their pioneering Dial-a-Song platform but seems no less familiar to the audience for all that.
A recording of Last Wave is played in sync with its inspirational Aerosmith & Run DMC video; an overture for the second, more eclectic set to usher us back from the interval.
Art-school visuals backdrop the entertaining musicians including a bass player bearing more than a passing resemblance to Andy Murray. (Google Danny Weinkauf and see for yourself!)
Hearing aids dangle from the band’s ears presumably more for monitors than Morrissey’s. Yet the acoustics in the hall do not quite do justice to the elaborate assembly and musicians who themselves take issue with some echo and reverb, before playfully dismissing it and carrying on regardless, not to be put off in their stride.
All too quickly, if not to say soon, we reach an undisputed encore featuring a rather protracted, if obligatory band intro. There follows The End of the Tour if not quite the end of the show as TMBG return to the stage one last time to cover Cub’s New York City and bring down the curtain with a medley of spliced song sections, lest our attention span be waning.