If not for They Might Be Giants, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I was on television’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in the United States. It was in a glass-floored studio in California in 2001 when the gameshow’s host let a smug smile slip across her face when she asked ‘Who was the eleventh president of the United States?’ and seemed a little taken aback when some Australian up-start answered correctly, before even being presented with a series of multiple choice answers.
Coincidentally, on the same day that I was fulfilling that particular ambition, I was missing the chance to realise another at home: to see They Might Be Giants live, as their Hi-Fi shows took place while I was out of town.
They Might Be Giants,
Corner Hotel, Melbourne, May 2, 2013…
With this being the first of the shows of the tour to go on sale, and consequently the first to sell out, the Corner was set up in ‘Big mode’ tonight, with the second stage set up for the support act – complete with a theremin front and centre – and the band room filling quickly after the doors opened. It was close to a full house when support act Pluto Jonze and his band took to the stage, backed by a vintage television sitting precariously atop stacked crates and displaying various clips and lyrics in synch with his tunes.
It was an impressive support slot which inspired me to look further into the band. Pluto Jonze seems like a talented multi-instrumentalist, though the aforementioned theramin did seem to be used only for novelty purposes. Everyone is familiar with their radio single with the Fitter Happier-style Paranoid Android verses, but the rest of the setlist consisted of immediately catchy tunes which sounded a lot like how Hot Chip might if they decided to go for a rockier sound.
The main stage was pleasantly filled with instruments – keyboard, bass clarinet… – as the house lights dimmed to a subdued blue and the five members of They Might Be Giants took the stage, with the infamous Johns doing so to enormous applause. Opening with something new, it was when the band launched into We’re The Replacements that the crowd were really brought on board, and that excitement remained, particularly when John L strapped himself into the clarinet or his ‘Main Squeeze’ accordian for songs like Meet James Ensor and Dr Worm.
The first of many accomplished guitar solos by Dan Miller – generously celebrated this evening – teased towards any of several song possibilities. It temptingly drifted in the direction of a rocked-out version of Robot Parade or Istanbul (Not Constantinople), but was actually a distraction whilst the Johns disappeared from the main stage, replaced on the support stage by The Avatars Of They, a puppet band who offered underhanded thanks to the ‘grandpas’ playing as their opening act, before ranting about local politics and performing a Tom Waits-style tune.
After the set by the Avatars, the Johns returned to the stage for favourites like S.E.X.X.Y., Ana Ng and a new song about Dr Tesla (nicely balancing out the group’s apparent pro-Edison slant) before another energetic solo for the real Istanbul which was so powerful it saw Dan break several guitar strings. The group were called back for two encores, culminating in a sing-along She’s An Angel.
For a band with thirty years of experience and sixteen albums, there was always going to be a whole clump of songs from my wishlist that were missed out live. On the other hand, this was a show that featured not only some of my favourite songs, but a whole bunch of other things I like, like puppets, robots, and an accordian.