They Might Be Awesome: Giants bring rock, puppets to Calvin

By Ellie Rulon-Miller

Last week, They Might Be Giants and Jonathan Coulton graced Northampton’s Calvin Theater with their presences.

Each act was entertaining and comical in its own way. Coulton took the stage first, providing a solid 30-minute foundation for the headlining performance.

Coulton, along with a two-man backing band, seemed to thrive on stage despite the fact that not many people had filed into the theater yet. Many of the songs he played did not seem to differ much in structure or sound, but he changed things up a bit when he played “Je Suis Rick Springfield,” a song written entirely in French. Coulton’s sense of humor ran rampant during his set, and could not be overlooked.

By the end of Coulton’s set, the orchestra pit was almost filled with guests, enjoying the end of the opening act and eager for the Giants to take the stage.

It’s difficult to describe the intense feeling of anticipation that filled the Calvin in the moments leading up to the headlining performance. It’s also hard to get into just how hard They Might Be Giants are capable of rocking. Sometimes it’s best to just jump in.

John Linnell and John Flansburgh are seasoned entertainers, as proven by their quick wits and incredible songwriting skills. Touring in support of the band’s latest album, “Join Us,” released in late 2011, the duo and their back-up band played a lot of new songs with older songs thrown in sporadically.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Johns’ performance is the fact that they still play with the same energy they have always played with despite the fact that it has been 30 years since the band’s formation in 1982.

Linnell and Flansburgh are both in their 50s. While Flansburgh didn’t hesitate to make use of the entire stage as he played, jumping and flailing around with his guitar, Linnell remained stationary at his keyboard for most of the night. Their movements, or lack thereof, however, had no effect on the quality of their performance. They maintained their high level of energy throughout, much to the delight of audience members.

One crowd favorite was the classic “Birdhouse In Your Soul” from the Giants’ 1990 album “Flood.” Other highlights were “Ana Ng” and “Snowball in Hell” from ”1988’s “Lincoln.” The group performed each part of the “Fingertips” series of songs from “Apollo 18” and Flansburgh put his guitar down and contributed solely vocals for “The Mesopotamians.” Among the songs from “Join Us” that were played was “Can’t Keep Johnny Down.”

The Johns indulged in the typical between-song banter that most bands make on stage, but took it to another level using sock puppet avatars to act out scripted scenes from behind a video camera, the scene being projected onto a floor-to-ceiling screen behind the band. The avatars made hilarious small talk, sang some Black Sabbath and provided a series of brief comedy shows. The Giants even used the avatars to make a few jokes about a few Republicans.

The avatars have been involved in the band’s performances for a while now, and added a whole new level of entertainment for those who had not seen They Might Be Giants in a long while or were seeing them for the first time.

They Might Be Giants have honed their performance skills to perfection over the last 30 years. Between the constant energy high and little highlights like the avatar sock puppets, they didn’t miss a beat.

Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected]