Concert review: They Might Be Giants at The Ritz Ybor, Ybor City

click to enlarge They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh and John Linnell - Drunkcameraguy
Drunkcameraguy
They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh and John Linnell

I have honestly lost track of how many time I've seen They Might Be Giants since my first show at Rollins College in 1992. However, the fact that I’ve seen them three times in the last two years should give you an idea of how high that number must be. A TMBG show isn’t just a concert event, it’s an experience, with people in costumes and custom shirts, waving homemade signs and gleefully soaking up every note. You know that when you see They Might Be Giants, not only are they going to knock it out of the park, but they're bound to have a fantastic opener. The Giants have an amazing knack for bringing on the best warm-up acts, like Soul Coughing, OKGO, and Jukebox the Ghost. This tour’s opener, Jonathan Coulton, kept the tradition going. [Text by Marci Richter, photos by Chris Spires.]

Jonathan Coulton is a former computer programmer who sings folk-tinged pop songs. Much of the crowd was already familiar with him, as was I from seeing him open for the Giants in Vermont last year. But for the seeming few who weren't familiar with the shaggy, bespectacled ginger, Coulton happily introduced them to every song, reeling them in and keeping them entertained throughout his set. Lots of opening bands end up playing to half-full venues, but the floor was packed for his performance and he happily invited us to be a part of things, like on his song about a zombie coworker, “Re: Your Brains.” Coulton encourage audience participation for the chorus, “All we want to do is eat your brains,” and after directing the crowd to sing it back to him, he then jokingly chided us for singing it too well and not un-dead enough, prompting us all to try again with more moaning, rasping and arm waving. There were also songs about Rick Springfield ("Je Suis Rick Springfield"), a vampire with Seasonal Affective Disorder (“Blue Sunny Day”) and how it all becomes clear once you meet the person you hate the most (“Nemeses”).

Finally it was time for They Might Be Giants. I was particularly excited for this concert because it was billed as a "Lincoln" show. I always see these shows mentioned in email blasts, but this was the first time I'd heard of them doing one here. Lincoln is the second of their 15 studio albums and one of my all-time favorites. I naively expected that they'd be playing the album start to finish, and was wondering just how they'd make it last a whole show. The band blew my theory out of the water when they kicked off the set with “Pencil Rain” instead of “Ana Ng,” and after that, John Flansburgh, one of the founding Giants, explained that while they'd be playing most of the 1988 LP, it was only 35 minutes so they’d also be playing stuff off lots of other albums. John Linnell, the other founding Giant, then followed in the long tradition of visiting bands and expounded on how to pronounce 'Ybor.' John L. had decided that it should be pronounced ‘Eeeeeboooooor,’ a la Dr. Frankenstein’s hunch-backed assistant, and I plan on using this pronunciation exclusively from now on.

Another TMBG concert must is an appearance by The Avatars, the hand puppet alter egos of the Johns. This time was special, however, and featured a horrifying Meg Ryan avatar. The Avatars also performed a tripped out cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” during their mini-set. Other highlights: when John F. asked for the house lights to be brought up so he could see just how many beards there were out in the audience; the video of a Chihuahua spinning on a turntable while they performed “Cowtown” (what can I say, I’m a sucker for chihuahuas); and the thrashing version of “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)” that ended the second encore, during which John F. ripped most of the strings off of his guitar.

And if 32 songs wasn’t enough, after the lights came on and people started heading out, John F., drummer Marty Beller, and bassist Danny Weinkauf came out and signed autographs, and handed out decals and three autographed drumheads. One of the longest-running and hardest-working bands around, They Might be Giants know how to put on a show that makes being completely hoarse at work the next day totally worth it.

Setlist:

Sammy Intro
Pencil Rain
Can't Keep Johnny Down
Celebration
Mr. Me
Santa's Beard
They'll Need A Crane
Snowball In Hell (featuring the The Avatars Of They)
Purple Toupee
The Mesopotamians
Piece Of Dirt
Stand On Your Own Head
Birdhouse In Your Soul
Damn Good Times
Battle For The Planet Of The Apes
Lie Still, Little Bottle
Cloisonné

The Avatars of They:
Crazy Train
Pandor Jingle
Paranoid
Shoehorn With Teeth

Full Band:
Marty Beller Mask
Kiss Me, Son Of God
Cowtown
Where Your Eyes Don't Go
Ana Ng
When Will You Die

Encore 1:
How Can I Sing Like A Girl? (Johns only)
Doctor Worm

Encore 2:
Everybody Conga
No One Knows My Plan
Istanbul (Not Constantinople)