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Perfect poppa: Dan Zanes at the Egg. Photo by: John Whipple

The Rebirth of the Cool
By John Rodat

Dan Zanes and Friends
The Egg, March 6

The last time I saw Dan Zanes play, back before his reinvention as troubadour to the swingset set, neither of us had quite so much gray hair. Of course, I’m not going to complain—and by evidence of Zanes’ impressive rock & roll mop, I’d guess he wouldn’t either—because in comparison to many other fellas in the audience at Saturday’s show, we’re both follicularly blessed.

Way back in 1995, the modest crowd gathered at Bogie’s to see Zanes perform songs from his brilliant solo LP Cool Down Time were all safely on the stylish side of the comb-over years, which calls into question what I recall as the curious stiffness and reserve of that audience. We stood with arms folded—except when pistoning Schaeffer tall boys down gullets toward still-resilient livers—soaking in the swampy soul, dancing only on the inside. Being cool had some fairly stringent behavioral proscriptions: To quote the infallible Calvin (a cartoon character graced with a slightly Zane-esque ’do himself), “The world bores you when you’re cool.”

But when you have a kid, a transformation occurs: Suddenly “cool,” the kind that translates as “stoicism that will, through some optimistic magic, get you laid by the cute chick with pigtails and a band of her own,” takes a distant second place to the kind of cool as defined by progeny who think you are the funniest person on the planet. Zanes, a dad himself, is very obviously hip to this. Boredom is not an option. So, dance, monkey, dance.

And on Saturday afternoon, that’s just what we did. We—me, my daughter, her mom, some others I recognized from that much earlier show, and a whole passel I didn’t—stormed the midget pit at the Hart Theater to hokeypokey like our lives depended on it.

Typically, the hokeypokey is not a dance that I associate with rock & roll, and an argument could be made that the rootsy-folksy, kitchen-social-style hootenanny that Zanes and his band performed wasn’t, strictly speaking, rock & roll. But it’s not an argument I’d listen to for very long, because—really—who gives a damn? Zanes conjured distinct shades of John Fogerty in his tremulous electric work, and he and his band triggered thoughts of less-definable acts such as Ed’s Redeeming Qualities in their easy, inclusive informality: Bull fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, drum kit, penny whistle, accordion, spoons and—believe it or not—tap shoes were all thrown into the mix.

The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to both arrangement and set list—which included both a rap version of “Old MacDonald” and a brief a capella lament regarding a waning supply of gin—was given a slogan of sorts when Zanes said, with palpable sincerity, “There is a way into making music for everyone in this room. And you see how much fun it is.”

And that it was: kids twisting or pogoing with their moms, or clapping more-or-less rhythmically while perched on Dad’s shoulders. We saw one ambitious little girl execute a convincing time step during “Smile Smile Smile,” and my own almost-2-year-old daughter proved herself to be a very precocious snapper-of-fingers (if any bands are hiring, keep in mind that she must go night-night by 9).

It was family fun of a true kind: It was an improvement on lots of kiddie acts in that there was no pandering, no product placement (Zanes even seemed sheepish, almost apologetic, about mentioning his upcoming Sesame Street appearance), no gross-out humor and no moralizing; and it was an improvement on lots of club acts because there was no genre-zombie recitation of cliché, nor any hipper-than-thou posing or preening (maybe just because nobody at this particular show had to prove that they could get laid).

It was, in a word, cool—the occasional comb-over notwithstanding.

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