February 28, 2011
It's a bit embarrassing how few live kids'-music shows my family has been to, given that I spend this much time writing about the subject. I always intend to bring the boys to see the acts we enjoy most, but something else always comes up on the weekend or day in question—a visiting relative, a nasty cold. And so a bunch of perfect opportunities have passed us by: Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Lunch Money, They Might Be Giants. Lame, I know.
Well, not this time. Recess Monkey's much acclaimed The Final Funktier has been in permanent heavy rotation at our house since last summer, so when we saw they were coming east as part of the Just Kidding series at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side of NYC, I knew my six-year-old and I had to be there. (Plus, the hall they were playing there is the site of the old Thalia movie theater, where I spent many an idle weekend afternoon watching old movies as a kid myself. And now it's called the Leonard Nimoy Thalia! It was all meant to be, clearly.)
The band, three working grade-school teachers who were able to tour last week only because they were off for winter break(!), had already played an early show the same day. But you'd never have known that from their energy when they took the stage, grabbing the audience with their catchy uptempo numbers that got the little ones up and dancing. Dash was psyched to hear live versions of tracks he knows from the recent album ("Jet Pack," "Moon Boots," "Booster Seat"). But he was soon singing along with lead singer/guitarist Drew Holloway on tunes he was hearing for the first time as well; thanks in part to the engaging introductions by bassist Jack Forman, it hardly mattered whether you knew the material before you came or not.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Recess Monkey is better than just about anyone out there at writing these fun, clever, very danceable songs. Dash had a blast, though by about two thirds of the way through the hour-or-so-long show he'd danced and spun himself into near exhaustion. (He was also briefly surprised to discover that the band's "manager," a plush simian named Mayor Monkey, did not move and talk by himself, but was assisted in both tasks by drummer Darin Henry.)
As for me, I was marveling at how these guys, at the top of their game and their field, were making a full NYC house of about a hundred kids and parents feel intimate, like a show played for a group of friends. I suppose being full-time schoolteachers probably helps there; as I asked Dash on the way home, "How cool would it be to have these guys as your teacher?"
After the show ended, the band ran to the back of the house to wish their enthusiastic fan base farewell. We bought a copy of the band's album-before-last, Field Trip, from them, and when the guys offered to sign it for Dash, he was thrilled to near speechlessness. I also confirmed a rumor I'd heard that Recess Monkey has a new album due out in June—their seventh!—continuing to uphold their reputation as the most prolific of today's great kids' musicians. (It's about superheroes, they said.)
Dash was beaming all the way home, looking over his signed CD sleeve, and I vowed that I'd do better at getting us out to more shows in the coming months. With spring approaching, there's no shortage of opportunities in the NYC area; the Just Kidding series itself has an upcoming Justin Roberts show on March 26, for instance. And every major U.S. city seems to have at least one series like this in town, but an even better way to find shows to attend is just to check out your favorite musicians' own websites and see if they might be heading your way anytime soon.
There's even another chance for New Yorkers to see Recess Monkey soon—they'll be playing the 92nd Street YTribeca on May 1. (Is school out that week too, or are they flying cross-country for the weekend?) Any fans who haven't seen them live yet should jump at the chance; we very well may go for seconds ourselves!
[Photo: Myles McDonnell]