Dan Zanes and Friends, Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ- 4/22
The lights dim, the music starts and the kids are almost immediately going ape shit.
Whirling dervishes rotate in neat little patterns of broken circles. Lunging bodies
hurl towards some unseen barrier. The theatre is a mad visual tapestry of greens
and oranges, reds and whites, shocking bright colors containing billowing animal
sounds and buckets of water-filled circus acts with lots of clapping and crazy dancing
as the band enters through the crowd ala Trey Anastasio on his 2007 fall toura
strange parallel and a weirdly appropriate bridge from a past moment of odd beautiful
Brooklyn’s Dan Zanes brought his group of musical friends to the Rialto Theatre
in Tucson on a sunny Sunday afternoon filled with a mixture of aging hipsters and
their small childrenthis writer included with his own three year old son. To be
sure, at first, I wasn’t sure what the appeal was to kids. The music was a beautiful
blend of Americana folk, blues, jazz and the sort of music one envisioned being
heard throughout the house in Bob Dylan’s upstate New York abode in the early 1970s.
Zanes, a former member of the Del Fuegos, has created a body of work that appeals
to the younger set via children’s television programming but the songs are not dumbed-down
kiddie annoy-a-thons. Nope, Zanes has created a body of work that ventures into
juvenile territory but always keeps the material simple and innocent enough with
memorable hooks so any jaded music lover can easily fall in love with his unique
magicfrom any age group, tyke to octogenarian.
At the Rialto, the band opened with “Trip the Lights Fantastic in New York.” Zanes
followed with a quip“we came to Tucson to have a party,” and they did. The band
left this century and traveled back to the 19th with a cut from Zanes’ Sea Music
album, “Cape Cod Girls,” which didn’t seem a tad bit inappropriate in this setting.
Zanes continued his party theme by introducing a local Tucson one-name-only guest
musician, Salvadore, on acoustic, harmonica and vocals on “Monkey Married the Bad
Old Sister,” which also featured Zanes on ukulele, Salvadore on tap dancing and
the crowd on animal growls.
Zanes served up some tasty leftist political cuisine by stating “it isn’t a party
until everybody sings an anti-war song with mariachis.” And so we did on “Down by
the Riverside” as the little hippies in the crowd shook The Man down for his evil
ways. Later, the children went completely berserk when Zanes and his talented group
of musiciansviolins and drums and trumpets and mariachis all spinning at oncedug
deep into his children’s bag o’ tunes on “Catch That Train!” and “Dance Party” with
Father Goose on vocals while myself and about 200 other parents chased our possessed
children throughout the balcony section. Below us on the floor, the world’s youngest
mosh pit twirled out of control. My son resembled Seinfeld’s
Elaine Benes, a deranged Snoop Dogg and Joe Cocker at Woodstock as he busted a move
perilously close to the balcony stairs and the overhang. Meanwhile, I looked around
and noticed that there really wasn’t a generation gap dividing the parents and their
kids. This was a joyous sensation that I had not witnessed very often. The music
of Dan Zanes found a way to temporarily bond an entire audience without ever talking
down to a single participant in the unique lyrical dialogue. And how many bands
manage that elusive trick?