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They Might Be Giants give the people what they want

A live review of TMBG and Moon Hooch at the Music Farm

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They Might Be Giants w/ Moon Hooch
Music Farm
Thurs. April 11

Some bands don't live up to the hype. Some bands sell a lot of records and earn a lot of fans, but after a few years in the business, they lose their verve for touring and put on lackluster live shows, phoning it in while rolling their eyes behind the microphone.

They Might Be Giants is not one of those bands. After more than 30 years, the reigning kings of brainy quirk-rock proved Thursday night at the Music Farm that they're not living in the '90s or resting on their laurels.

The evening began with an astonishing opening set by Moon Hooch, a Brooklyn trio consisting of drummer James Muschler and saxophonists Wenzl McGowen and Mike Wilbur. On paper, it doesn't sound like it should work, but in concert, Moon Hooch was electrifying. My mouth was agape for nearly the entire set as McGowen and Wilbur, trading off on tenor and bass saxophones, contrabass clarinet, harmonica, and slide whistle, did things with their instruments that would have gotten them burned at the stake for witchcraft a few centuries ago.

Everyone knew it was going to be a weird night when McGowen propped what looked like a cardboard packing tube in the bell of his sax and blew through it to create a didgeridoo-like drone. What we didn't expect was a dance party. But the band, who earned their chops creating raves on New York City subway platforms, shocked everyone with a live dubstep number, complete with wobbling bass and impossibly fast, chirpy sax solos by Wilbur.

They Might Be Giants, no strangers to the Music Farm stage, absolutely owned the venue. They played the hits ("Doctor Worm" showed up early in the setlist), but they also did what they wanted, activating the robo-voice for the title track on Nanobots and busting out the accordion for singalongs. Throughout the set, a projector intermittently provided a backdrop of weirdo art films, cementing the band's art-school Dada cred.

Most importantly, you could feel the love in the room. The audience contained no shortage of diehards who'd been following the band since the '80s — one mentioned before the show that he had traded instant messages with the band at the dawn of the internet — and frontmen John Linnell and John Flansburgh paid their respects. And how do you respect such a crowd? By playing the cult hits, giving shout-outs to the marching band geeks, and couching everything in an utterly deranged sense of humor. The band deputized the audience to shout the background vocals on the song "Drink!" and John F. even turned his Telecaster to the crowd, inviting an audience member to strum while he formed the chords ("You have no idea how hard it was to find the other left-handed person in the audience," he remarked afterward).

What else is there to say about a TMBG show after all these years? The evening was everything we wanted it to be. Thank you, and please come again.

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