newsweek 9/18/2008

Dan Zizzie in the Hizzie
Brian Braiker

Sunday we met up with some friends and took the kids to see Dan Zanes, who is of course the reigning Pied Piper of family music (without, I’m hoping, that whole leading-children-off-to-their-deaths motif). Sometimes, as much as I’d like to deny it, it’s hard to be a young parent in Park Slope and not endure the creeping suspicion that I am a craven yuppie scumbag hipster-lite stereotype. Thankfully I am not self-aware enough to be plagued too painfully. So, with due cheer, the fam hopped on the 5th Avenue bus yesterday after breakfast and headed north to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In no time it turned into the Dan Zanes express: every person who would board the bus was either a parent or a toddler. Or horrified to discover themselves on some bourgeois nightmare re-imagining of Ken Kesey’s Further schoolbus packed with midget Merry Pranksters.

The opera hall at BAM is gorgeous—DZ called it the Carnegie Hall of Brooklyn, and so it is. When we got to our seats we were astonished to find that $22 placed us third row center. The Man Himself was a little jarringly onstage doing last minute sound-checky things. He smiled and waved at folks as they walked in. It felt like he was welcoming us into his living room—the performer/audience wall thus shattered, it never fully reconfigured for the duration of the show.

But, I mean really, check the proximity:

Ah, I am getting ahead of myself.

Now, I am on record as having certain, well, grown-up feelings for one Ms. Laurie Berkner. But I have to say, in recent months one of Zanes’s bandmates has been catching my eye on the concert DVD (and late-night Google Image searches). Barbara Brousal is raven haired, slinky, sophisticated and mysteriously sultry—a deeply compelling contrast to Laurie’s bouncy, sproingy, cutesy colorful playfulness. Now, don’t get me wrong: I still love me some Berkner. But I was verrrrry much libinously looking forward to seeing BB in action yesterday.

You can imagine my dismay upon a pre-performance perusing of the program that included no mention whatsoever of Barbara Brousal! O, heartbreak! Mrs. Breeder took, I thought, a bit too much delight in my obvious deflation.

But! Then the show started. Zanes had previously vacated the stage to change into one of his top-drawer suits. Collin Brooks, his usual dapper drummer, was the first to bound onto the stage. Then came Saskia Lane on upright bass, followed by John Foti on accordion and Elena Moon Park on fiddle. Who, I wondered angrily, would dare to take the place of my dearly departed Brousal? Barbara! Even though you share a Christian name with a woman who drove my first grade carpool, I hardly knew ye. Agh. Fine. Let us get a good look at the person that doth claim to replace you …



Oh my. My oh my. It is, it seems, a lady named Sonia De Los Santos, who hails from Mexico. She may have some pretty mighty shoes to fill, people. But, let me tell you, I learned yesterday that there is no such thing as global warming. The reason the polar ice caps are melting is because of Sonia’s smile:


Uh, sorry. But. I mean, COME ON THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A KIDS’ CONCERT. Hmph. Dan Zanes has some serious mojo working for him in the painfully adorable bandmate department, I’ll tell you that much. Can I get an amen, fellow dads?

Ahem. So anyway the Man of the Hour tells us that he’s got a new album coming out in a couple months called Nueva York or something and it’s got a lot of Latino and Hispanic roots flavors to it—salsa, meringue, norteño, etc. (probably not too many narcorridos, though, sadly). So we were treated to a few ditties from the new rekkid. And this being Brooklyn, his home town, he played “Wonder Wheel,” his lovely homage to the Coney Island Ferris wheel. I keep waiting for the Dan Zanes Backlash, but astonshingly it fails to arrive. Maybe it’s not so astonishing. The sound mix was perfect, the lighting warm. His song choice was tasteful, his dance moves endearingly ridiculous. There were songs about monkeys and songs about Mary Mack, silver buttons and all. There were anti-war stalwarts (“I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield …”) and pro-immigration tunes. At the end of it all, he did his James-Brown-I’m-Exhausted-to-the-Point-of-Collapse bit, hand towel and all. Then he played the traditional Zanes end-of-show waltz, “Sidewalks of New York.” He stepped down off the stage and slinked through the unwashed masses out into the lobby. He vanished. Dan Zanes can put on a hell of a show.

There were, per usual, a smattering of guest appearances: tap dancer Derrick K. Grant brought, um, ‘da noise and i guess ‘da funk. The Filipino Arts & Music Ensemble was adorable with their twelve-thousand mandolins played with huggable awkwardness by 13 year olds (“the most strings I’ve ever seen on stage at one time ever!” says ZanesHimself). Anna Zanes, Dan’s daughter, was there in all of her early-teen glory and she played the flute and Daddy Dan sang along and she had a friend-in-braces with her and it was cuter than baby pandas. Bless.

Then, of course, there was Father Goose. He didn’t just hop on stage. He swarmed it. He had a posse. He brought his boys. He had a hype man! At a kid’s concert! A hype man! A hype man who I am pretty sure had a glass eye for reasons we’d be better off not knowing about. Dan Zanes is rad for many reasons—the all-inclusiveness, the you-can-too vibe, the exquisite choice of songs. But chief among the reasons that he is rad is turning Rankin Don into Father Motherfriggin’ Goose. If Brooklyn is the dollhouse that Dan Zanes built, Father Goose is the guy who tore the damn roof off of it. Jaysus.

So, yes. Dan Zanes puts on a hell of a show. But “children’s music?” Pishposh. This was as good a performance as a performance can get. You could ask for no better critic than my three-foot-tall daughter who weaseled her way to the front of the baby most pit. There she was, palms down on the stage, bouncing up and down for a solid hour. When she woke up from her post-concert nap, we asked her: “Do you remember what you did this morning?” She paused and furrowed her tiny brow with a gravitas that would make Walter Cronkite look like Pee Wee Herman. “Ummmm,” she replied. “I can’t remember.”

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