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Pop Music Reviews : They Might Be Giants, but Then Again . . .

November 19, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN

It's OK to be geeky.

That's the underlying message in everything done by They Might Be Giants, the Brooklyn band that's gradually built a strong cult following of fans grateful for the freedom to wear fezzes and pogo uninhibitedly down the aisles.

Actually, the fez look has faded into the TMBG archives, but at the Pantages Theatre on Thursday the essence remained the same, even as the sound has matured and expanded. The core duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell now fronts a full-fledged, versatile band, but the two remain nerdy naifs getting a kick out of playing rock star.

The music ranged from an adenoidal, streetcorner vocal-group sound descended from homies Dion & the Belmonts to jerky new-wave to Beach Boys-ish pop to campfire kiddie tunes. Intricate vocal arrangements made unwieldy word clusters flow smoothly and to comic effect, and there was even some black-and-white TV era "sounds of the city"-type scoring.

But a little Giants can go a long way. Balancing the charm of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and the moral affirmation of "Your Racist Friend" were musical jokes that went on way too long and never paid off, and a lack of coherence in their mix of spoofery and sincerity.

Frank Black opened with a solo set of songs about Pong, the Ramones, John Denver and assorted esoterica. Eventually he started slinging his guitars onto his back when he picked up a new one, and when he walked off the stage he looked like some prehistoric creature festooned with spiky armor.

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