Show Review: They Might Be Giants with Guggenheim Grotto at The Fillmore, 11/13/09

by Gordon Elgart on November 15, 2009

This show is planned down to the last detail.

This show is planned down to the last detail.

Somewhere in Los Angeles today, They Might Be Giants are playing a show at which they’ll play Flood in its entirety. Shows where bands play the entire album are a bit boring because you know exactly what’s coming next, and most of the fun of a band like They Might Be Giants is wondering just what the heck will be played next. While you can see from the above set list photo that there’s no question what’s going to happen next, I like the element of surprise.

Guggenheim Grotto opened the show, and while their music is lovely, and their voices blend impeccably, they seemed to be lost on the crowd. When you get a sold out crowd full of geeks, pretty music often skates right by their quirky brains. It’s a shame, though, because it’s clear that this band–who came all the way from Ireland–deserve a larger audience.

They Might Be Giants walked on stage to less than giant cheers. The audience didn’t really seem to have it at the beginning of the show. In fact, the whole show had a “here we are now entertain us” vibe to it. This was broken only a few times throughout. I’d blame it being on a weeknight, but perhaps a 10:00PM start is late for their fans?

I also think that the energy coming from the stage was also a little off.  Talkative John (Flansburgh) remarked during the show that it was nearing the end of the tour, and that this is usually when things fall apart. He also spoke of one of their crew members who had an accident earlier in the day. For the most part, everyone seemed a little tired. Untalkative John (Linnell) did seem in good spirits, but I did wonder out loud about whether or not he always slurred his singing voice so much. I was told he has, but I don’t think so.

The set list itself, though, was thorough and exciting. It had a smattering of often-played fan favorites like “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Istanbul,” and “Don’t Let’s Start,” but was focused mainly on new tracks from Here Comes Science and a lot of deep album tracks. For the hardcore They Might Be Giants fan, hearing “Cowtown,” “They Might Be Giants” or “Shoehorn With Teeth” is as exciting as it gets, but most of the crowd seemed to be staring straight ahead in wonder … wondering what these songs were.

TMBG brought out a secret weapon for these shows, San Francisco’s own Ralph Carney. He played an assortment of saxophones and clarinets, along with flugelhorn and a homemade instrument called a slide clarinet. (I would have taken a picture but, alas, this was a no cameras allowed show–not even iPhones.) In the setlist below, I’ve noted what he played on each song on which he performed. He was the most excited to be on stage tonight, as he ripped through an incredible clarinet intro to Istanbul and finished the song on his back during a blistering sax solo. He’s a force of awesome, and the best parts of the show were when he was on stage.

This definitely wasn’t the best They Might Be Giants show I’ve seen (Bimbo’s, night two, the one with the venue songs), but your average TMBG show comes with more smiles than other act’s worse shows. It’s just that if they’re only going to do one night show, it’s a shame it wasn’t one of their best nights.

The remarkable set list:

Meet the Elements
Dig My Grave
Ralph Carney Intro
Cowtown (RC on clarinet and bass clarinet)
Birdhouse in Your soul (RC on tenor sax)
Clap Your Hands (RC on baritone sax)
Particle Man w/Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” (RC on alto sax)
The Famous Polka
Damn Good Times
Free Ride — Edgar Winter partial cover
Shoehorn With Teeth (sung by John & John as sock puppets with RC on bari sax)
What Is a Shooting Star (sung by J&J sock puppets)
Free Ride — more jamming on Edgar Winter
We Live in a Dump
The Mesopotamians
Take Out the Trash
Whistling in the Dark (RC on tenor sax)
Hearing Aid (RC on tenor sax)
Why Does the Sun Shine?
Science Is Real
My Brother the Ape
Istanbul (RC on clarinet, then tenor sax)
Where Your Eyes Don’t Go (RC on tenor sax)
They Might Be Giants (RC on muted flugelhorn)
Don’t Let’s Start
Band Introductions Jam (RC on slide clarinet)
—-Second Encore—
The Alphabet of Nations

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian November 15, 2009 at 10:27 am

The Famous Polka. Wotta show! Thanks for the review.


Gordon Elgart November 15, 2009 at 10:40 am

Thanks! I’ve updated the post.


Jon Wilson November 17, 2009 at 8:56 am

I agree 100% with your review regarding energy levels.

It was my fourth show and I had actually thought that this was going to be my first Flood show (bad information). I was kind of looking forward to it since it’s such an awesome album and it would be nice to sing along.

Honestly I would have been happy if this show stuck primarily to anything Factory Showroom or older. In my opinion that’s when they were at their cleverest. Since I have kids I could sing along with the ABC, 123, Science stuff but I’d rather sing along to their more complex music and The Spine, The Else, etc… just bores me (sorry!).

My first TMBG show was in 1996 at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo where I was a student. I was a member of the group that put on the concert so I got to drive the Johns from their hotel to the venue. They also sent me to Radio Shack to buy a metal detector for their song of the same name. Cub was the opening band which was cool (original authors of “New York City”) and they were really nice people. I got the Johns to sign my “Why Does The Sun Shine?” EP which is still one of my favorite possessions. The audience was bouncing up and down and running around the whole time and it was awesome.

They are still my favorite band and I’ll see them anytime they come to the Bay Area. I’m going to be in New York in December so maybe I’ll even catch their show at the New York Hall of Science. Maybe the audience where they are from is more energetic.


Gordon Elgart November 17, 2009 at 11:36 am

Thanks for your comments. My first TMBG show was also a crazy affair. It included a conga line, and their old parlor trick of playing the favorite song of an audience member’s parents. Those were the days.

Oh my, I’ll actually be there the weekend they play in Queens. My flight leaves JFK at 7:15. Could the 3:15 show be a possibility? I’m looking into it.


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