Noting that the audience of about 500 included many children, John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants graciously but firmly asked that fans cease smoking marijuana during his band’s concert Thursday at Crossroads KC.
The unconventional request reflects the extraordinarily irregular career of They Might Be Giants. Founded by Flansburgh and John Linnell more than 30 years ago, the band’s unapologetic, nerdy sensibility has made it a favorite among aficionados of spelling bees, crossword puzzles and science journals.
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Thursday’s set list included a plaintive tribute to the achievements of the inventor Nikola Tesla, a cautionary advisement about the dangers of nanorobotics and an update of a vintage song about the nomenclature of a city in Turkey.
The band’s fans embrace the esoteric subject matter of its songs.
“I believe we have a really high cumulative SAT score standing in front of us,” Flansburgh said.
The giddy enthusiasm displayed by the uncommonly astute audience was matched by the playfulness of the quintet. Flansburgh and Linnell employed sock puppets to hilarious effect during “He’s Loco.”
The band also performed a polka, synth-pop and a send-up of steamy R. Kelly-style rhythm and blues. The band’s immaculately crafted but decidedly offbeat love songs sounded as if Cole Porter had used biology textbooks for inspiration.
The “world premiere” performance of “Icky” resembled a half-remembered hit by the Monkees. The complex lyrics of “The Mesopotamians,” the theme song of an imaginary television program, failed to trip up the many fans who sang along to the catchy ditty.
A rendering of the bizarre song cycle “Fingertips” initially seemed like a bad idea, but the challenging piece was resolved as if the band had formulated an elegant solution to a difficult math problem.
A delightful rendition of the absurdist “Doctor Worm” and a surprisingly sloppy garage rock version of “Don’t Let’s Start” from the Brooklyn-based band’s 1986 debut album also sent paroxysms of joy through the audience.
Endearingly self-deprecating, Flansburgh characterized They Might Be Giants as an “ossified rock band.” Yet there was nothing stagnant or rote about Thursday’s performance.
Only one song, a somewhat lackluster reading of “Lost My Mind,” wasn’t entirely engaging.