“Working Undercover for the Man”: They Might Be Giants at The Neptune Theater (4/20)
(They Might Be Giants performing Birdhouse in Your Soul - Seattle, WA 4/20/23)
While I made my way to The Neptune Theater on April 20th, I had very little idea of what to expect from my They Might Be Giants venture. As an avid Flood fan, I jumped on the opportunity to see it live, and when I piled into the sold out Neptune, I relished in the excitement that buzzed around me. My friend and I arrived at the theater closer to the doors opening than I had hoped, worried that we would be stuck in the back of the audience–not an ideal place to be for two 5’1 individuals. Stuck in the back of the line, as we made our way to the tickets checkpoint, we decided to accept our fate in whatever it gave us, whether we were in the back or not. Luckily, once we were in the venue, we realized that barely anyone was crowded on the floor yet, further proven by the growing mass of people in line for merch. Antsy fans eventually began to make their way to the floor, with a large portion of the crowd taking up the balcony, but my friend and I were able to situate a spot up at the corner of the stage. Originally worried about having a bit of an obstructed view, instead the corner location became a haven–with a clear enough view that we didn’t miss anything without getting swept up into the crowd.
They Might Be Giants took the stage at around 8:10pm, and right off the bat, the energy they brought to the stage was very apparent. Beginning with their They Might Be Giants opening animation as the band walked out, jumping right into the Synopsis for Latecomers, then into Birdhouse In Your Soul, my early expectations for both the band and the crowd were high. These expectations were met twofold by the band. From start to finish, through two sets and just as many encores, They Might Be Giants commanded the stage with their eclectic energy and fast paced set. The chemistry and energy between TMBG founders John Flansburgh and John Linnell radiates off the stage with every little quip and side note— it’s very clear the pair have been friends for upwards of forty years. The set was gimmicky in all of the best ways, from the backwards recording of Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love, which was then played forwards to start the show’s second set, to the ever-enthusiastic accordion playing of John L. The eight piece band all carried their weight and made for a tremendously entertaining performance. My only real critique of the performance was that I could have done without the 12 minute long individual horn solos from each member of the horn section. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good horn solo, but 12 minutes of three different disjointed trombone, trumpet, and sax solos was frankly grating. I would have had a much better appreciation for them had they fit in with the set better, but given that they weren’t connected to any song, they sort of just felt like the horn section was pissing in the wind. Luckily the solos came towards the end of the show, but they still felt reductive and could have absolutely been reined in.
Unfortunately, the audience didn’t match the energy received from the band. During the Synopsis for Latecomers, John F. quipped with his audience about the night’s performance having been the third time the show had been rescheduled due to Covid, and with that fact, I expected the audience’s resounding pent-up excitement for the show to translate into a high energy crowd, but I quickly found that not to be the case. Everytime the cameras showed the audience on the screen behind the band, you would have thought they were all being lulled to sleep. There was barely any jumping, dancing, anything, and as an audience member, it was disappointing. I am a firm believer that if you go to a show, you should at the very least try and match the energy of the artist playing, but these They Might Be Giants fans clearly didn’t get the memo. All of the giddiness I had seen in line outside the venue seemed to be sucked out of the air as soon as the second song of the first set, Birdhouse in Your Soul (a personal favorite of mine) concluded. I’m just glad this lack of energy didn’t bring the band’s energy down, because I think it is impossible to try and perform any They Might Be Giants song without the energy of a chihuahua on adderall, but I wish the audience had given the band more to work with.
I would say the show was a worthwhile adventure, and if you, like me, enjoy dad rock and musical gimmicks, I would highly recommend catching them on one of the few dates they haven’t already sold out, because as long as you put just a bit of energy in, I guarantee you’ll get some back.