Concert review: They Might Be Giants, Capitol Theatre, Columbus OH 3/14/10: “We Want Cake! Where’s Our Cake?”

If you’re looking for Brooklyn’s Finest, avoid the multiplex this weekend; you’ll find them in concert in the form of infectiously catchy geek rockers They Might Be Giants. Supporting their latest kid-oriented, parent-friendly CD/DVD release Here Comes Science, TMBG stopped in Columbus recently and pulled out all the stops.

Frontmen John Linnell and John Flansburgh led a set that drew heavily from Science and its Grammy-winning predecessor, Here Come the 123s, making sure to include tracks that gave their bandmates a moment in the spotlight. Fans were encouraged to cheer for bassist Danny Wienkauf as he sang lead on “I Am a Paleontologist” because “he’s having a birthday this year,” and to welcome percussionist and “High Five” lead singer Marty Beller “straight from the dance halls of New York” – though, regrettably, the stage setup seemed to dissuade fans from actually high-fiving Marty during the song; he had to settle for air-fives. Horn master Curt Ramm was touted as “the hardest-working member of the band,” and he proved it, knocking out a stellar version of “Seven Days of the Week” on trumpet and following up later with tuba, more trumpet, and of course the irresistible horn intro added to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”


But the music, while solid, was only the bare cake. This being a family show, TMBG knew they needed plenty of frosting for the kids. Upon entering the show, every child attendee was given a giant foam finger emblazoned with the band’s name – which came in handy for pre-show tickling and sword fights. Early tracks such as “Kids Go!” encouraged the little ones to get up out of their seats, “move like a monkey” and “move like a jumping bean.” During “Particle Man,” Linnell exhorted his young fans to “keep clapping: It’s the only thing that keeps our spirits up when the chord changes to C Minor.” Ironically, the one missed opportunity with regard to audience participation was the criminal omission of fan favorite “Seven,” with its “We want cake! Where’s our cake?” lyrics just born to be screamed by a theater full of children.

Despite that shortcoming, the band delivered ample visual frosting as well: Beller’s drum kit was accessorized with a toy pigeon, and, in a joke that everyone past the first several rows likely missed, Linnell’s accordion was labeled his “Main Squeeze.” Halfway through the show, Linnell and Flansbaugh disappeared, replaced by a puppet duo dubbed “The Avatars of Men” who shared uncanny vocal similarities with John and John. In a nod to Spinal Tap the parents surely appreciated, the Avatars thanked TMBG for serving as their opening act, and then launched into a goofy, disco-ball-accented version of “Shooting Star.”

And what good is a children’s cake without sprinkles on it? As if the live experience of nearly all their favorite TMBG songs weren’t enough, the audience was showered in colorful confetti at the beginning, middle and end of the show. Kids young and old leapt out of their seats to catch the bright, fluttering sprinkles. Boys stuffed handfuls of confetti into the openings in their foam fingers to hoard for later; a little girl shared some with the three-year-old sitting behind her, who happened to be my son. His eyes gleaming, hands filled with confetti, he beamed at me after the show and said, “We saw Giants!”

We saw Giants, indeed.