Before The Aquabats had a TV Show, it was hard to explain what their live stage show was like. You had to explain that the band was composed of superheroes, talk about how villains would interrupt, and reference TV shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Unless your audience had the same appreciation for camp that you did, you probably got some funny looks. Last Thursday I saw The Aquabats at Paradise Rock Club for what I believe to be my fifth time. What’s important to note is that in the time I’ve been seeing the band, their stage show hasn’t changed, but their audience has.
I didn’t realize it until I arrived at the show, but this is the band’s 20th anniversary tour. In that time, they’ve released 5 studio albums and created some 4 or 5 TV show pilots (watch the video below), the last of which finally got picked up by Hub Network and premiered in 2012. The Aquabats! Super Show! has introduced this band to an entirely new and incredibly young audience. While their audience always skewed young, for the first time, there was a critical mass of small children at the event. When I say young, I mean 5-year olds. Suddenly, their stage show made a lot more sense.
Opening the night was Koo Koo Kangaroo. I’d previously seen them open for Reel Big Fish, and just could not get into it. I thought they were annoying and couldn’t figure out why they were on the bill. Opening for The Aquabats, they made much more sense. Given the audience, and the nature of The Aquabats, this rock show was family friendly. The crowd was completely enthralled in Koo Koo Kangaroo’s children’s birthday party schtick and I was willing to given them a second chance. If I had kids, I’d be in the front row with them. You could tell there were some of the folks in the middle (let’s say, high school-age through those in their 20s) who were visibly upset that this was not a show for moshing, where was five years ago it was. It’s wild what can change in just a couple of years. But, again, the scene at the show made sense. Of course this was a place for rad parents to bring their kids. (And big ups to the parents who had ear protection for their kids.) You could tell it was a new experience for the band as well. A few songs in, the MC Bat Commander took a moment to ask the crowd to go easy on each other because there were such young kids in the audience. I might suggest they take a cue from They Might Be Giants who now go out of their way to specify if they’re performing a family show or adult rock show. This kind of move sets the right expectations and avoids weirdness during the show. Saturday night, I ran into someone who was at the show who had brought their five year old. They said that they spoke to the band, and this was the first show of the tour where there was a real critical mass of families and young children. I say “Kudos, Boston.” Let’s get those kids into the music early.
The Aquabats played a really great mix of new and old songs, but not so much stuff from the middle. That is, the set was very heavy on tunes from “The Fury of” and “Hi Five Soup.” They event dug out “Tarantula” from their debut “The Return of.” The set had all of the big songs you’d expect such as “Pool Party” and “Pizza Day.” “Red Sweater” is always a personal highlight for me. See the setlist below.
The real surprise came when their stage hands began setting up an extra mic on stage and MC Bat Commander started to introduce a guest musician. Greg Hawkes, keyboard player for legendary band The Cars, came on stage, complete with Aquabats’ eye goggles. Turns out, he lives in the area (Lincoln, MA according to wikipedia), and he’s been bringing his kids to Aquabats shows for the past 10 years. They then performed a cover of The Cars’ hit “Just What I Needed,” with Greg using the organ he played on the original recording. I’ve had the privilege of seeing The Cars and this was just as cool, if not cooler. The intro was a hair shaky, but once it got going, it was bliss. Guitarist Eaglebones Falconhawk effortlessly nailed the guitar solo.
I love this band and I loved this show. While they may have branched out from their ska sound, they’ve not forgotten their superhero ska roots, and they’ve only further perfected their act.
The Aquabats – “Just What I Needed” (The Cars) – Paradise Rock Club, 5/8/14
Watch this clip for a better view. This clip below has better audio.