Show Review: They Might Be Giants with Oona at The Napa Uptown, 8/21/2010

by Gordon Elgart on August 23, 2010

This is They Might Be Giants with confetti, but not all that much, really. See inside for details.

If I had to give a title to this review, apart from the boring, SEO-friendly titles we always use here, it would be “They Might Be Giants vs. The Napa Uptown Theatre.” I think that the band started the show really loving the beautifully restored theater, but by the end of the performance, I feel like there may have been some antagonism between the two. Was this an actual fight? Or merely a love-fest in disguise? It was a bit hard to tell.

The show started with a surprise opener. They weren’t listed anywhere, but the band Oona came out to open the set. They first get some unsolicited advice from me: say your name more often! Behind me, someone said “What was the name of that band? I liked them.” To which their friend replied, “Umlaut.” I took the opportunity to correct them, and they said “with a name like that, they should say it more often.”

Oona takes us high-OR

While I don’t get why they were paired with They Might Be Giants, they did win over the crowd somewhat due to the vocal gymnastics of Oona Garthwaite and the fine songs (there’s some honest-to-goodness hits in there) of Dave Tweedie. The only misstep, in my opinion, was their cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” because of a particular vocal affectation which always bugs me. Is there a name for the thing where a singer sings “High-OR” instead of “High-er?” Well, whatever you call it, it annoys me. Everyone else loved it, so what do I know?

They Might Be Giants started right away with their quick-witted and quick-hitting songs, barely letting us up for breath between songs, except for some stage banter from the always entertaining John Flansburgh. He talked about how Napa reminds him of “waking up and seeing those four letters sideways.” He explained that there would be a lot of looking down at their instruments to let the audience know how hard it is for them. “Delivering disappointment since 2003,” he explained, as a needle to drummer Marty Beller, who joined the band that year.

Before playing the so-called national anthem of They Might Be Giants, “Clap Your Hands,” Flansburgh invited everyone to come down the aisles, asking those in the back to come up front. And as the crowd was asked to stomp their feet, the security at the Napa Uptown duly removed all of the revelers from the aisles. Soon after, Flansburgh had a side conversation with a security guard about why everyone was asked to leave. “I heard people flood the aisles at this theater.”

Yes, TMBG are behind there somewhere.

Now, early on during the show, they had said that “we see a lot of clubs, and this one is better.” But now they seemed annoyed by the fact that their audience was not allowed to turn the venue into a giant party. During “Older,” John Linnell left the confetti cannon blasting for something like 60 seconds, filling the room with shredded paper.

Once the paper was in the room, the party was definitely on, as the audience stayed on their feet throughout, singing, clapping and dancing when called for. The audience took it upon themselves to act as secondary confetti cannons as well, throwing flumes of paper in the air to punctuate the music when appropriate. It all became a little loose and joyous, and the band took the cue. Lyrics were flubbed and replaced. Jokes were improvised. The 21+ status of this club was definitely taken advantage of.

Finally, as the set drew to a close, Flansburgh again invited everyone down the aisles, announcing that “the fire marshal left the building.” Linnell declared that They Might Be Giants would “go down in a wave of litigation.” So again, the excited crowd flooded the aisles, this time for good, right?

John Linnell looking down, as promised.

Wrong. The security once again cleared the aisles. This is not a very rock n’ roll venue. It’s a gorgeous venue, and worth the hour-long drive up from the Bay Area if your favorite artist is playing there. But it’s not a wild venue, so it felt like the band was attempting to push its limits. Like a class clown seeing what he could get away with. It made for an odd energy because I was never sure if they were seriously annoyed about it, or whether it was all in good fun. I suppose I’ll never know.

I’ve reviewed They Might Be Giants shows before, having seen them more than ten times throughout the years, and I’ll never tire of them. I’ll also be on the road up to the Napa Uptown any time there’s someone I want to see there. I just wonder if this was a match made in heaven or not.  I think next time, I’ll start a conga line and see what happens.

They Might Be Giants handwritten set list from The Napa Uptown, 8/21/2010 (Note: there was no third encore so the question mark is left unanswered.)


Thanks so much to Mitchell Glotzer Photography for providing the photos for this review. A gallery of full size photos, including some of the theater itself, are below. You’ll see from these photos that it’s definitely worth the trip.

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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