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Live Review: They Might Be Giants, The Flying So High-Os

9 November 2015 | 2:20 pm | Tim Kroenert

"They close with Doctor Worm — it is pure, unadulterated fun, which, when all is said and done, is what TMBG are all about."

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Melbourne's The Flying So High-Os have done well to get themselves on the bill tonight, warming up for one of Brooklyn's most prolific and long-loved musical exports. Their emo-folk channels The Smith Street Band's urban angst but, despite their name, the band's set doesn't hit many high notes — you can't help but wonder if they might be better off changing their name to 'The Flying So So-Sos'. The drumming is excellent, though, and a trumpet features on one song, which brings some variety.

Variety is something you expect from perennial genre-hoppers They Might Be Giants — the core duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell, plus band — and they deliver in spades tonight, dipping into a back catalogue that spans three decades and hundreds of songs. Flansburgh promises the best show of their career ("We're going to play at 80 to 85% all night long") and they duly rocket their way through two epic sets of hits and fan favourites: The Mesopotamians, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), the pop oddity We Live In A Dump — the list goes on. Linnell chips in with some of the rockingest accordion you're ever likely to hear on Particle Man, and the doof-doof pastiche Man, It's So Loud In Here is reconstructed as a rock song.

In 2015, TMBG resurrected their Dial-A-Song concept, writing a new song each week: "Some of them are really good," quips Flansburgh, "and those are the ones we're going to play tonight." The rocker Erase, bebopper Let Me Tell You About My Operation and acoustic guitar-driven paean to disappointment Answer, fit the bill.The nasally duo's skills as vocalists are perhaps underrated; they wrap their vocal cords around extremely dexterous melodies — and verbose, and literate (albeit tongue-in-cheek) lyrics — and hardly miss a note all night. They have surrounded themselves with equally talented musicians; guitarist Dan Miller and the tireless rhythm section of Marty Beller and Danny Weinkauf prove exceptionally well drilled on the genre-mashing Fingertips and the staccato chorus of an unlikely but brilliant cover of Destiny's Child's Bills, Bills, Bills.

If you need more evidence that TMBG are the ultimate Band Geek Gods, the introduction of a bass clarinet — the harbinger of a heavy, double-time rendition of Black Ops — should be enough; the instrument is surely a rare beast at a rock show, but Linnell's handling of it proves a worthy foil to Miller's shredding. Robot Parade, a treat from the 2002 children's album No!, features distorted vocals, mechanical keyboard blips and Flansburgh beseeching the audience to become a "human theremin". Older, with its existentially bleak lyric, is an unlikely candidate for an ecstatic singalong, while Birdhouse In Your Soul is a marvel as always, its pop ebullience surviving counterintuitive key changes and ensuring that the calls for an encore shake the room. They close with Doctor Worm — it is pure, unadulterated fun, which, when all is said and done, is what TMBG are all about.

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