Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recess and Monkey Around at Symphony Space

And so we were off to Symphony Space again for Recess Monkey.

At three years old, Matthew is a veteran, perhaps artificially assisted by his older brother (Ben, 13), who started seeing shows here just before his third birthday (Dan Zanes, December 2003).

If there's one thing that Queens lacks, it's a regular program involving children's music acts. Occasionally a venue like Colden Center will cobble together 2-3 "kids acts" for its yearly agenda, but they usually fall under the touring puppet show or three-person vaudeville act.

 New York City, on the other hand, is littered with those programs. If you don't get to the Just Kidding Kids (JKK) series at Symphony Space, the 92nd Street Y runs Kids Central. And the New Victory Theater is right in the heart of Times Square (although they concentrate more on theater, Dan Zanes used to play there as well).

But I digress. We've seen dozens of acts as part of the JKK, including Seattle's Monkey Men. But this would be the first time with incoming drummer Korum Bischoff. The boys recorded TWO CDs last year, DEEP SEA DIVER and DESERT ISLAND DISC, so there was plenty of new material to hear.

 We piled the boys onto the LIRR and 25 minutes later descended onto the 1 train for the ride uptown. The trio (Drew, Jack, and Korum) were already signing merch in the back (they haven't recorded 10 CDs for nothing) and we said hello and welcomed them back to the Big Apple.

I've always been skittish about shooting video with our camcorder during these shows. But my new phone promised amazing video quality. And with second-row seats, I thought I might try to capture the essence of the performances. Indeed, the only failings of these recordings are my shaky hands. The songs (and the boisterous nature of the crowd) speak for themselves.

Ben sat and enjoyed himself thoroughly. He has no problem interacting with on-stage musicians. In fact, whenever they begin a "call and response" segment, Ben is ready to participate. Matthew on the other hand chose to sit on his booster seat and philosophically ponder just how a "mosh pit" of 20-30 youngsters miraculously appeared as the band ripped into "Tambourine Submarine."

The 50-minute performance contained a number of old favorites as well as songs from the 2013 "double concept set." The (nearly) packed house was euphoric, the Monkey Men were in sync, and the parents seemed to know as many (if not more) of the songs than their children. I'm always nervous for a band when one of the members jumps into the audience and leads a conga line or parade around the building. In many instances, the majority of the kids wind up back with their parents. But when Jack Forman led the children up and down the aisles for "Monkey Bars," they all seemed to find their way back to the front of the stage.

After the final song, "Jump in the Deep End," it was back to signing and photos in the back of the Peter Jay Sharp auditorium. In the past, Recess Monkey were booked for two shows in the smaller Thalia. This time around, they earned a shot at the big house and proved their worth – with as large a crowd as I can recall for a "fly-in."

We spoke with Drew Holloway, the titular lead singer for the band, about their upcoming plans. Apparently CD number 11 is coming this summer, with a "mechanical" theme. Recess Monkey has concentrated on "concepts" for the past several years, with some success. It will be interesting to see what directions they go to flesh out their theme.

When it was over, we tromped down Broadway (to Grandpa's apartment for lunch). Matt was so jazzed that he collapsed in Penn Station for a stroller nap. Ben was eager to get home and watch the songs captured on video (and shared here).

I have no doubt Symphony Space will bring back the Seattle trio for another showcase next winter. They drew a good house, and the larger theater means higher ticket prices. Hey, that's just good business sense. And with a name like Recess Monkey, good business sense is what's kept them around for almost 10 years.
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