It’s hard to be grumpy when Dan Zanes and Friends are onstage. Even a finicky 8-year-old who considered himself too grizzled for the “Hokey Pokey” had to admit he had a good time; his 4-year-old sister left Zanes’ return to UCLA (moving up this time to Royce Hall) a confirmed fan.
The former Del Fuego manages this feat not just by playing good music but by treating his preschool aud with respect and genuine affection. Meanwhile, sprightly originals such as “House Party” and rootsy arrangements of kid classics such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” are clever enough to please the parents and other adults in attendance.
Work songs such as “Pay Me My Money Down” and a medley about different states wear their educational trimmings lightly; the information is leavened with silliness.
The set builds momentum with singalongs, hand gestures that dramatize the lyrics, dances and an instrumental lineup that changes from song to song. Naturally curious, the kids enjoy seeing the different guitars, mandolins and banjos Zanes and Barbara Brousal employ, and watching Cynthia Hopkins play a musical saw during “Old Paint.” Rankin’ Don, a teddy bear of a man, brings a touch of Jamaican spice to the hour’s last few songs, adding a reggae lilt to the “ABC Song.”
But what makes Zanes and Friends such a treasure is that they exist outside the corporate structure. There’s no attempt to cross-promote or create a consumer. All that matters is having fun; for parents of a certain post-bohemian mindset, it’s a sentiment both nostalgically sweet and just a little bit subversive.