Back in 1989, flush with our first satellite dish and making a beeline for the then global juggernaut MTV, a track enjoying heavy rotation at the time was They Might Be Giant’s super catchy folk-rock hit Birdhouse in your Soul, a staple on alternative music showcase 120 minutes and responsible for catapulting the then joint venture co-fronted by New Englanders John Linnell and John Flansburgh from student cult band to international acclaim, albeit for a year or two.
The accompanying album Flood went platinum, their third original release at the time, joined by another 17 arriving at fairly regular intervals since, including a handful of children’s records. Their most recent ‘straight’ offering was I Like Fun, hitting the shelves earlier this year and recorded at the same studio as Flood.
Now 36 years in existence, TMBG’s innovative blend of witty irreverent cerebral college rock, a melting pot of influences including punk, calypso and Balkan folk continues to endear them to their audience whilst influencing a raft of future bands. Tonight’s Brudenell appearance, the latter of a two-date sold out residency at the iconic Leeds venue sees the band playing two full sets, surprising to the uninitiated, perhaps only familiar with one or two TMBG tunes until one scratches beneath surface, revealing a wondrous treasure trove of quirky delights.
Opening their first set with the appropriately titled Let’s Get This Over With from I Like Fun, we’re soon dipping into fan favourite Subliminal, oddly reminiscent of Glass Tiger’s 80s anthem Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone, setting a pattern for the rest of the evening. The calypso-tinted Guitar borrows heavily from The Lion Sleeps Tonight whereas the ever brilliant Particle Man slips into a segment of the Parton/Diamond classic Here You Come Again before reprising itself once more.
To add to the madcap atmosphere, we’re even treated to an impromptu fire alarm during Dr Worm, bringing things to a brief unscheduled stop, a very tense-looking official frantically trying to restore order behind the scenes.
The second set opens with a brilliant bad lip reading video mash-up of Last Wave the closing track on I Like Fun, now immortalised from its welding to the 80s rap-metal crossover classic Walk This Way…Steve Tyler has never sounded so good!
We’re also in the presence of trumpet legend Curt Ramm in the live line-up, his opening duelling trumpet and trombone on Istanbul (not Constantinople) proves a revelation begging the question, am I watching a Mesopotamian Mariachi band?
Tonight we’re also treated to brand new material including the brilliant The Communists Have The Music from recent EP My Murdered Remains, a song so green John Linnell still hasn’t mastered the words. Nevertheless, it’s the classics everyone is waiting for as the inevitable Birdhouse brings the house down before Dead closes the show after some three dozen songs have been performed without the band ever outstaying their welcome.
Having witnessed numerous stellar gigs at Brudenell, this one ranks amongst the very finest.