Review: They Might Be Giants at 170 Russell, Melbourne, March 1st, 2019

Ask any fan of They Might Be Giants and they’ll undoubtedly tell you that one of their biggest fears about the band’s live show is the content of the setlist.

With the group have been around for close to 40 years, there’s always a fear that the set will borrow too heavily from newer material, or pay too fond of a tribute to their early years.

However, when They Might Be Giants announced their return to Australia for 2019, fans in Melbourne and Sydney had their fears assuaged somewhat.

With the group announcing that the two cities would be treated to two nights – one pitting their ’80s output against the ’10s, and one featuring the ’90s vs. the ’00s – it gave fans an idea of just what to expect.

So on Friday, March 1st, legions of the band’s dedicated followers made the pilgrimage to Melbourne’s 170 Russell to kick off a stellar evening with They Might Be Giants.

Check out They Might Be Giants’ ‘Ana Ng’:

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As fans poured into Melbourne’s Russell Street venue, it was clear that the evening was going to be an enjoyable one, with one of the kindest crowds you’ll find anywhere lining up for the show.

Gone were the elbowed sides and frantic barrier rush of an average gig, as instead these were traded off for friendly smiles and jovial conversations about what everyone’s favourite They Might Be Giants song is. Truly this was a stunning indication of the sort of fans a band such as this attracts.

As 9pm rolled around and The Magnetic Fields faded from the venue’s P.A. system, a round of cheers rang out from the audience, with newcomers and veterans of the band welcoming They Might Be Giants onstage.

With the iconic duo of John Linnell and John Flansburgh arriving first, the rest of their talented band of musicians followed closely behind, quickly kicking things off with ‘The Communists Have the Music’, the opening track from 2018’s My Murdered Remains.

As the instantly-recognisable voice of John Linnell flooded the venue, fans were immediately left in awe of the entire group’s musicianship, as the two Johns traded vocals, and Marty Beller showcased his worth as one of the tightest drummers you’ll find anywhere.

However, if fans were left wondering about this setlist would be divided, their questions were quickly answered, with the band’s earlier material getting a look-in by way of classics such as ‘Ana Ng’, and ‘Why Does The Sun Shine?’ (which was in fact released in 1993, but we won’t tell if they won’t).

As the group traded jokes with the audience, and took extended breaks to share tales about childhood books and Instagram algorithms, it was clear that the band were treating this show as less of a concert, and more of a get-together with old friends.

Their endearing nature undoubtedly won them over with the dedicated crowd, and this love clearly carried over to their live songs as well, with their music appearing to be almost the epitome of unrestrained joy and enthusiasm.

Before long though, the opening set carried on, with tunes such as ‘Cowtown’, ‘Trouble Awful Devil Evil’, and ‘Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head’ giving fans a constant back-and-forth between their comprehensive discography.

However, after an extended performance of ‘Spy’, which featured the members of They Might Be Giants showcasing their musical prowess throughout the haunting surf-rock/jazz odyssey, the band took their leave from the stage, undoubtedly leaving the audience hungry for more.

Check out They Might Be Giants’ cover of ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’:

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Mid-way through the first set, John Flansburgh jokingly noted that the first set would see the band giving a “medium effort”, while the “second set – due to our age – will be diminished.”

Despite jokingly advising fans that refunds would be available (via Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, no less), it was clear that the evening was just getting started.

Making their way back to centre stage, They Might Be Giants returned to kick off the second half of the evening. With only the two Johns appearing at first, their acoustic guitar and accordion pairing was soon joined by drummer Marty Beller, as the trio kicked off their iconic cover of The Four Lads’ ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’.

Despite being almost drowned out by enthusiastic applause, the rockers persevered, delivering an extended experimental vocal performance, before rushing into performances of ‘I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die’ and Lesley Gore’s ‘Maybe I Know’.

As the second set continued though, it did become clear where the audience’s loyalties lay, with newer material undoubtedly receiving less applause than early anthems such as ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ and ‘Hide Away Folk Family’.

Despite this, newer compositions (including a version of ‘Last Wave’ that was synced to the video clip for Aerosmith & Run-D.M.C.’s ‘Walk This Way’) were still met with adoration, proving that They Might Be Giants have an uncanny ability to continue writing some of the best material you’ll find anywhere.

Check out They Might Be Giants’ ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’:

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After polishing off their second set with performances of ‘She’s An Angel’ and ‘Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had A Deal’, They Might Be Giants bid farewell to their fans, only to be almost instantly met with widespread chants for an encore.

After granting the wishes of their fans, the band returned to the stage, kicking off their first encore with two of their finest tracks, ‘The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)’ and ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’.

While the former might not have been from the ’80s or ’10s, its power and resonance within the crowd undoubtedly set itself aside as one of the evening’s highlights. Likewise, the latter’s status as one of the band’s most beloved tracks was clear, with barely a single voice not singing that legendary chorus.

As some fans began to leave following the encore, the group were again coaxed back onstage, reminding fans that they’ll be in town again on Saturday night to do the same thing, this time picking tracks from their middle period.

However, after taking things back to their self-titled debut with ‘Number Three’, They Might Be Giants closed out the evening’s events with a performance of ‘Doctor Worm’, the endearing 1998 single that saw massive popularity in Australia.

While some fans at the evening’s performance may have criticised the absence of some of the popular early and later singles by the band on the setlist, it was clear that almost everyone viewed this performance as a perfect example of the group’s eager formative years, and brilliantly-crafted later years.

Although some of the tracks performed may have been written up to 36 years apart, the consistent quality of They Might Be Giants saw these tunes seamlessly blend into each other, allowing them to provide a performance that many big-name bands could only dream of.

They Might Be Giants are set to perform their hits of the ’90s and ’00s at the Croxton Bandroom in Melbourne on Saturday, March 2nd, before wrapping up their Aussie tour with an appearance at the Adelaide Festival on March 3rd. 

Check out They Might Be Giants’ ‘Doctor Worm’:

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They Might Be Giants @ 170 Russell, Melbourne 1/3/18 Setlist

Set 1

‘The Communists Have The Music’
‘Ana Ng’
‘Why Does The Sun Shine?’
‘I Left My Body’
‘Authenticity Trip’
‘Cowtown’
‘Let’s Get This Over With’
‘Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head’
‘Trouble Awful Devil Evil’
‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes’
‘Music Jail, Parts 1 & 2’
‘Mr Me’
‘Spy’

Set 2

‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ (The Four Lads cover)
‘I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die’
‘Maybe I Know’ (Lesley Gore cover)
‘I Like Fun’
‘Shoehorn With Teeth’
‘Let Me Tell You About My Operation’
‘Don’t Let’s Start’
‘Mrs. Bluebeard’
‘Hide Away Folk Family’
‘Where Your Eyes Don’t Go’
‘All Time What’
‘She’s An Angel’
‘Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had A Deal’

Encore 1

‘The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)’
‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’

Encore 2

‘Number Three’
‘Doctor Worm’

They Might Be Giants Australian Tour 2019

Remaining dates

Saturday, March 2nd (Sold Out)
TMBG in the 1990s vs 2000s
Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne, VIC

Sunday, March 3rd
The Palais, Adelaide, SA
Tickets: Adelaide Festival