BY MIKE WOLVERTON SPORTS GUY I hadn’t been to the Mann since the mid-80s. I was in high school and they had a sweet system going to promote underage drinking. Any time there was a show, beyond the fences in a semi-wooded area of which I have only the fuzziest recollection, there would be kegs set up. How many? Twenty, fifty, a thousand, who knew? But it was beer paradise for thirsty 16 year-olds who otherwise had to take their chances and trek to that “special” distributor in Springfield that (almost) never carded. Outside of the Mann, you’d just pick a keg that seemed mostly full, pay $5 for a cup and start pounding. I don’t know who the keg providers were (23 year-olds out to make a buck?), but no one cared. I must have gone to 25 “shows” in this manner, and sometimes you could just barely hear snatches of the music. Randomly, the only performer I specifically remember is Steve Winwood. Does this still happen at the Mann?
I strongly suspect it was not happening Sunday afternoon, when I made my return to the Mann, 24 summers later. I wasn’t there for beer or rock n’ roll — I had my wife, plus my five- and three-year-old sons on hand to see Yo Gabba Gabba! Live. If you are unfamiliar with this program, it’s pretty much the coolest kids show around, starring five costumed “creatures” and hosted by loveable, orange-clad, 85-pound DJ Lance Rock (Lance Robertson, pictured below right). It’s earned an older following as well, due to some big-name guests and trippy sets and costumes (Dare I invoke Sid and Marty Krofft here? Brobee definitely has a Sigmund and the Sea Monsters thing going). Yo Gabba Gabba! has featured musical guests like The Aquabats, The Shins, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Devo, The Killers, Flaming Lips, members of The Roots, and MGMT, Of Montreal, Hot Hot Heat, and The Ting Tings as well as plenty of other celebrity guest stars. I wasn’t expecting any particular star power on Sunday, but I was much more excited for the show than I would have been if we were there to see Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Handy Manny.
I wasn’t planning to write a review, and thus didn’t take notes; please forgive any omissions. Here’s what I remember. The show started with a live version of the TV intro, which I had hoped for because it’s a great number. Out came the characters:
MUNO: “He’s tall and friendly”. (And shaped like a dildo)
FOOFA: “She’s pink and happy”. (I can’t get into Foofa)
BROBEE: “The little green one”. (With long, thin crazy arms)
TOODIE: “She likes to have fun”. (Don’t we all)
PLEX: “A magic robot”. (I wish I had a magic robot friend)
Judging by merchandise sightings, Brobee seems to be the most popular character. Or maybe they only sell a Brobee version of the backpacks. I sure wasn’t going to get anywhere near the merchandise counter, no matter how curious I was. That’s a lose/lose scenario. As far as my kids know, there’s no such thing as a merchandise counter.
The show consists mainly of singing with a big chunk of dancing. Early on, they did their strong “Peek-a-boo” number, probably the catchiest tune of the day (it’s either that or “Good Bye, See Ya Later”). On the car ride home, I sang the chorus of the Peek-a-boo song at least three times, evilly trying to plant it in my wife’s head. There was a pretty loud rock song with a band (Steel Train) that didn’t go over too well in my section. In fact, for the first fifteen minutes, Torin, who is five, had his fingers stuck in his ears. Note to self: earplugs next time. But Reilly, who is three, was eating it up. Bouncing to the music, dancing when he was asked to get up and dance, big smile on his face. He likes to dance. Torin doesn’t like to dance and wasn’t feeling well; he’d thrown up the day before. So he was a little down. I took him for a walk to pick up a water and a soft pretzel.
The highlight event of the First Act was the balloon drop…four big, long bags of balloons unleashed from overhead. There were a lot of balloons, so it wasn’t cutthroat like a foul ball at a Phillies game. It was actually mostly civil. I was able to secure what I thought was the proper number of balloons (one per child), but unfortunately found out that the balloons that had fallen to us were not the right color. At least where Torin was concerned, the white one was not good, as he required a blue one. Moping, he went so far as to say that he liked “every color that there is in the whole world except white” (forget for a moment that until this year, the kid’s favorite color was white; there is no point in arguing this).
We made it to intermission, which for a few minutes was a “We’ll be right back” screen and music. Which was fine. Then came the low point of the day, when two people (presumably interns) in t-shirts came out on stage to engage in some interactive dance, something called the Bunnyhop, which was truly cringeworthy. Then a video you could barely hear but that did include the words “knucklehead” and “dork”, which are virtually curse words given the audience. Finally, before this pair left the stage, the girl asks the guy, “Have I ever given you a ride in my Kia Sorrento?” Ahem, can you guess who sponsors the tour? My immediate thought was, “You guys just spent ten minutes out here trying to lower our guard just so you could shill for Kia?” One good thing did happen during the intermission. Reilly allowed his red balloon to drift away, back into the “box seats” behind ours. I went to retrieve it, and the seats were empty, with the probable inhabitants standing just outside. I grabbed the red one…and saw a blue one off in the corner. There were no obvious signs of seat occupation or balloon ownership, and I decided that Finders/Keepers Rules were in effect. Blue balloon problem solved! Torin was pretty excited and perked up for the first time since we’d arrived. Not three minutes later I was startled by the loud clap of a nearby balloon pop, and turning to my left my worst fears were confirmed…the remnants of a busted blue balloon draped limply over his fingers. I looked at his face and I knew it was on – tears were coming and they were coming hard. It had been building since we’d arrived, there was no stopping it, and the blue balloon tragedy was the perfect trigger. My wife and I exchanged the look that said, “I’d like to laugh right here, I can barely contain myself, but we musn’t, don’t want to laugh at the poor kid’s pain”. He got over it eventually.
The Second Act was pretty tame. There was a “bubble” song with big bubble machines cranking out the good stuff, it must have been a blast in the first five rows where all the bubble machines were. But the rest of the crowd was left sitting there, thinking, “It must be fun up there.” Then there was a painful bit with costumed food dancing around — there was a chicken leg, slice of cheese, green beans. Weak. Act Two was rescued, sort of, by the appearance of Yo Gabba Gabba regular Biz Markie, who led a beatboxing beat-along. He also had a handful of kids come onstage to beatbox with him and a few of these were hilarious. It was a fun segment, but ol’ Biz was with us less than ten minutes. He is stealing money on this tour!
The show ended, and we all went home. The red balloon popped on the way out of the Mann, but Reilly took it in stride. Afterwards, the kids showed more interest in why certain cars were parked the way they were than in the show they’d seen. Par for the course. But I know Reilly had fun. Personally, I felt just a little disappointed. DJ Lance Rock did not quite have the stage presence that I assumed he would. He wasn’t bad, he was into it, but the free and easy enthusiasm wasn’t there. Plex gets credit for best character performance. If I’d paid $50 per ticket I may have felt aggrieved, but as I paid $0 per ticket and only the outrageous $15 parking, it was a good value. My wife’s final assessment: “I couldn’t take the dildo seriously.”