The shortest path to an early end for an artist is to rest on past success. Comforting as it may be, it leads to stagnation and death.
Tireless veterans They Might Be Giants, who played Showbox SoDo Wednesday, are instead very much alive in their very long career.
Guitarist John Flansburgh and multi-instrumentalist John Linnell have shared a brain for over 30 years, carving out a unique niche between literal and non-sequitur, funny and serious, pop and experimental.
Both in their 50s now, but appearing ageless, the two Johns — high on caffeine, admittedly — zipped around the Showbox stage for two hours, riffing off each other like the best friends, longtime colleagues and professional artists they are.
Considering TMBG’s exhaustive catalog of more than a thousand songs — which cover myriad subjects from particle science to racism to S-E-X, played in styles ranging from grunge to polka — one never has a clue what to expect from them live.
Wednesday’s show was no exception.
The setlist mixed tracks off their latest, “Nanobots” (Flansburgh’s New Wave-y “Circular Karate Chop,” Linnell’s Chuck Berry-inflected “Call You Mom”), with accordion-driven oldies (the tongue-twisting “Letterbox” and contagiously melodic “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” both off 1990’s seminal “Flood”) and scholarly sermons on wildlife classification (“Mammal”) geographical nomenclature (“Istanbul [Not Constantinople]“), inventor Nikola Tesla, and the 11th U.S. President, James K. Polk.
In spite of the venue’s questionable acoustics, the five-piece band — which, besides the core duo, includes guitarist Marty Beller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Dan Miller — filled it with three decades’ worth of vibrant, eclectic music.
The near-capacity crowd reflected TMBG’s all-ages appeal, with more than a few younger admirers, chaperoned by parents, amidst the bespectacled diehards. Particularly warm receptions for the mid-period “Doctor Worm” and newer but similarly wide-eyed “Mesopotamians” rewarded Linnell and Flansburgh for having never stopped writing.
Openers Moon Hooch, a guitarless trio of onetime NYC subway buskers, amused early arrivals with a concise, mostly instrumental performance involving saxophone, slide whistle, disco drumbeats and surprising dubstep undertones.