The guys behind They Might Be Giants may have 30-plus years of fan favorite songs behind them, but the duo are realistic about how kind the charts have been to them in recent years.
The group, considered trailblazers within the burgeoning world of college rock radio in the late ’80s, rode early embracement from MTV to a platinum album with “Flood.” That record included the song “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” their 1990 hit that remains the band’s only single to crack Billboard’s Modern Rock chart to this day, along with the catchy “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”
Still, the rock band soldiers on, finding success with a host of children’s albums and becoming widely known as one of the best live acts to regularly tour from their era. If the reputation for their performances isn’t enough, the fact that their show on Jan. 18 at Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle is an unofficial release party for the newest album “I Like Fun” – actually hitting record store shelves the following day – will surely pack the venue.
Guitarist and founding member John Flansburgh explains why they chose to perform in two North Carolina cities for such a special occasion; Asheville will serve as the site of the official release date show. It all boils down to something they have learned as long veterans of the road.
“One of the things you learn after 30 years of touring is that it’s good to (perform) where it’s warm in the winter time,” the vocalist laughs. “It was all part of our master plan to not have shows canceled for snow.”
The duo, who celebrate their base of operations by referring to themselves by the nickname “Brooklyn’s Ambassadors of Love,” have much to look forward to with their 2018 tour, as “I Like Fun” marks their return to more adult themes, a departure from their kids’ album repertoire. While that output has resulted in multiple gold records, along with a 2009 Grammy win for Best Musical Album for Children for “Here Come the 123s,” it’s a little harder to get kids to sing along to songs being marketed as “(drawing) on the themes of dread, death and disappointment,” Flansburgh said.
So, after spending much of the 21st century entertaining an audience too young to buy their own tickets, and having struggled for mainstream exposure for roughly three-quarters of their existence, how does the band explain their continuing popularity?
“There is a double-digit percentage of our nightly audience who have clearly been dragged there by their friends,” Flansburgh said. “Fans of ours will see us perform and become confident that there is an entertainment value there that could be enjoyed by anyone. I’m not even sure how true that is. While we are exchanging witty banter onstage, it is a very accessible show; there aren’t too many barriers to entry at that point.”
The group tries to “do something that works for everyone,” Flansburgh says. That means playing audience favorites, like “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and other songs the audience might be familiar with.
“We’ll also play deep cuts, but the deep cuts that we pick out are the best ones we’ve got, and they are songs that you don’t have to be immediately familiar with to get their appeal and enjoy them,” he said. “We have so many advantages over other touring acts, in that we’re not trapped in a one-hit wonder place, and actually have a dozen or so songs that any combination of them would feel right within the encore portion of our show.”
Who: They Might Be Giants
When: 9 p.m. Jan. 18
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Info: CatsCradle.com or 919-967-9053