Membership in They Might Be Giants must be especially gratifying. The Brooklyn-based band has a fiercely loyal audience dating to the early ’80s, and the ranks continue to accept newcomers warmly. Although fans thrill to older songs like “Don’t Let’s Start,” “Particle Man” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” the band isn’t trapped in amber by expectations. At this point, TMBG would have to play all night to cover every wry favorite including ‘90s fare like “Doctor Worm” and “Older,” 2007’s “The Mesopotamians” or 2013’s “You’re on Fire.”
Sheer persistence is a major factor in this rarified position. If John Linnell and John Flansburgh take vacations, they’re sneaky about it. Few years pass without offering fans in Chicago a chance to sing along to “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” and the group remains manically prolific. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of TMBG’s sophomore album “Lincoln,” including the band’s first hit single “Ana Ng.” The group returns to the Vic on Saturday to perform songs from its 20th studio album “I Like Fun.”
TMBG’s stock in trade is a keen accuracy for striking the funny bone – along with the quirky bone and sarcastic bone – with unapologetic smarts. “Weird Al” Yankovic may be weirder and goofier, but you can bet the audiences overlap, with TMBG skewing more adult as Linnell plies his own accordion. Early “I Like Fun” single “I Left My Body” describes entering an altered state and forgetting where your body is stowed. From there, it’s a skewed mental leap to the impound lot. “They’re going to tow you if they think you’re abandoned,” sings Linnell. During the stomping “All Time What,” Flansburgh plays the role of his own best enemy, mystified as his world crumbles around him.
The band isn’t given to political statements, but it won’t keep a sharp observation locked away. “By the Time You Get This” is a time capsule note sent from a dark and troubled past to the distant, shining future “when the hatred and the lies are forever put aside.” That golden year is identified as 1937. Where are we now?
Along with the new album release, TMBG has revived its free Dial-A-Song service at (844) 387-6962 to present even more new material. Last week’s offering chronicled “Chip the CHiP,” a demented and drastically punitive patrol officer that you wouldn’t want to meet on your California vacation to Disneyland. It’ll be safer to stay in town and head to the Vic.