Gig Review: They Might Be Giants and Wonder Villains, November 20th, Manchester Academy 2

My first ever trip to Manchester was disappointingly brief; ideally I would have liked to have stayed a bit longer and seen more of the city (and maybe have done it 25 years ago).

Academy 2 was a lot further down Oxford St. than Google Maps seemed to suggest, so as I was cautiously finding my away along, hoping I wasn’t lost, I was dismayed to see a huge queue stretching up the street and down the side of the museum. Seeing as I still had to collect my tickets from the box office, I was not looking forward to waiting for ages in the cold – luckily it turned out to be for a Panic! at the Disco gig down the road, as a casual inspection of the assorted fringes, dye jobs, and painfully scene outfits should have told me.

I got into the venue in the Students’ Union building with plenty of time to spare, happy with my musical decisions in life, and waited for the gig to begin.

Opening act Wonder Villains are a charming quartet from Belfast. Their style is firmly rooted in mid-late 00’s pop-rock; try to imagine if Lovefoxxx from CSS was Northern Irish and fronted the Wombats. It could be said they’re a little dated but I can’t hold it against them. You don’t hear this kind of music so much these days, and they do it with enough skill and flair to carry it off. They’re also taking a few cues from wider influences – traces of The Cure or Britpop can be heard. The songwriting is solid; there are a few weak moments because of the clichés of the genre and an occassional dodgy lyric, but otherwise it’s very well crafted pop, and the band are tight enough to handle sudden section changes and abrupt endings. The two voices contrast particularly well – the raw, raucous quality of the frontwoman’s vocals works well against the keyboardist’s purer tone. A band worth keeping an eye on.

Main acts They Might Be Giants did not disappoint. Their peculiar mix of experimental art-rock, children’s music, and often surrealist lyrics drew a diverse crowd; beardy nerds and families with kids were mingled with the regular music fan crowd, reflecting the band’s eclectic output.

As a long time fan, I could not have been happier with the set. They found a good balance between the classic material the audience want to hear and newer songs. I was pleased enough with the song choices that I only noticed the absence of Particle Man and Statue Got Me High when another fan pointed it out afterwards. The older material was sometimes presented in fresh formats; several songs used different arrangements from their recorded versions, New York City segued directly into Ana Ng, and in a particularly notable example, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) descended into a bizarrely theatrical sung argument between the two Johns.

Flansburgh led the crowd interaction, which was always entertaining and in keeping with their eccentric personas. The high point was the division of the audience into two halves – the “apes” chanting “APES APES APES!” whenever the two Johns played, and the “people” chanting (no prizes) “PEOPLE! PEOPLE! PEOPLE!” as Danny Weinkauf, Dan Miller and Marty Beller, who have formed the remaining members of TMBG for the last several years, played. (Luckily us people won.)

Towards the end of the show, the two Johns took a short break and were replaced by two puppets – The Avatars of They – for some music and crowd banter. Returning for the encore, They Might Be Giants finished with The Mesopotamians, which left the crowd a little cold for a final song. Luckily they gave into the audience’s demands for a second encore, and ended (for real this time) on Dr. Worm. You couldn’t ask for a better closer.

John Flansburgh announced that their gig in Berlin (tomorrow night, at time of writing) would be their last of 2013, and they wouldn’t be touring next year, so I can’t close with my usual recommendation “Go see this band!” However, if a band as creative as this are taking a whole year off from live shows then I can only assume that they have some new album or another, more esoteric, project in the works. I look forward to whatever it is!

That segment with the puppets makes me wonder if I could convince them to do a joint TMBG/Avatars and Devin Townsend/Ziltoid tour though…

That’s my idea and you’re not allowed steal it.