We are no longer the Imagination Movers' target audience, if indeed we ever were. Back before they were a Disney sensation, they were known to us only via CDs, CDs that I was just sort of "meh" about. And their good fortune (based on a lot of work) of securing a Disney TV show didn't help us, a non-cable-TV household. (We've only seen the show maybe a couple times.)
So while I was definitely interested in seeing the band in concert on their West Coast swing, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, either from my own perspective or that of Miss Mary Mack and Little Boy Blue.
First off, I expected, and found, a sizable audience for the band. The lovely new Mesa Arts Center was hopping Friday with attendees for various events, but the Movers had the biggest theatre and given that the Ikeda Theatre seats nearly 1,600, I'd guess that at least 1,000 of those were filled, which, well, beat out Dan Zanes when he last came through on a Friday night.
It helps to have Disney's muscle backing the band, I suppose, so I got this shot of labelmates' TMBG's cover/reworking of "Davy Crockett (In Outer Space)" playing on the video screen before the show. (I have chosen to omit photos of my kids' slackjawed appreciation of the familiar video.)
But 7:08 rolled around, the scrim went up, the band came out, and we were off.
It's a fairly simple set which will remind attendees of their TV set -- crates, primary colors, the swirling attic fan behind the drum kit. There's a video screen above the drums -- the screen was used most effectively when the band interacted with the Warehouse Mouse via prerecorded bits. They occasionally used the video screen for some other visual distraction during songs, but I didn't feel like those distractions were necessary.
Now, I've never been a huge fan of the Movers' music on disk (see "meh" above). I mean, the music was (and is) a lot better than quite a bit of kids' music out there, but nothing special. In part, I think the fine line the band has to walk as songwriters between entertaining and educating now that they have a TV show is very fine and some songs (like "Sunblock," not played in Mesa) sacrifice too much entertainment (particularly in repeated doses) in hopes of capturing some of that education.
Thankfully, in concert, the band doesn't necessarily need to be at their most educational. Instead, they can make silly jokes -- yes, kids go nuts when somebody quacks, a Mover says "Duck!" and everybody, well, ducks. Sure, there's a problem -- oh wait, sorry, an IDEA EMERGENCY -- to solve (it involves Smitty, don't ask), but it seems a little grafted on to the concert just to give a familiar structure to all the kids who are only familiar with the Movers via the TV show.
Amazingly, there was, as best I can tell, very little prerecorded music used during the show. "Farmer" Kyle plays drums during the set, which frees Rich to take vocals and move all around the place (he didn't play his own drum set often) . That's him zooming past while Scotty takes vocals on another song. The fact that Rich and Scotty are multi-instrumentalists and both take vocals mean that if you didn't get a chance to high-five a Mover during the show, you were probably sitting way in the middle of the row. That's one reason why I found the video screen somewhat pointless -- I was much more interested in what the guys themselves were doing.
This is going to sound like faint praise, but it's not meant to be -- the Movers are a very competent band -- Rich and Scotty play different instruments while Dave and Smitty hold down their instrumental responsibilities with aplomb. They don't show off during the show -- except for "Farmer" Kyle, who lets loose with by far the most raucous drum solo I've ever seen at any kids show -- but this is a band who feels confident enough in their abilities to drop not-only well-rehearsed excerpts of some Queen, AC/DC, and They Might Be Giants tunes in their show but also play local-boys-made-big Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle."
I think that last part goes a long way towards explaining their appeal to a healthy segment of the American populace. I think the Wiggles put on a decent show. But for American audiences, there's a bit of a cultural barrier with the Wiggles -- there were no Matt Leinart jokes or Mark Reynolds shout-outs during the Wiggles show -- that the Movers will never have to deal with. For the moment, anyway, the Imagination Movers are in that sweet spot of fame where they're popular but they haven't been overwhelmed by their success. They still enjoy playing these shows, that's definitely noticeable from my vantage point in the audience. These shows in front of maybe a thousand folks are a great venue for them, big enough for "whoa," small enough to avoid, "who's that down there?"
After playing for maybe 70 minutes, the band finished off with a song written when some of the parents in the audience were the age that their kids are now. It wasn't kids music, but the kids seemed to enjoy it, and they certainly bounced around enough given that it was past 8:15 by the time the concert ended.
As for me, I left the concert with a newfound respect for the band. I mean, I respect most of the artists I see in concert, but pulling off the kind of larger show the Movers did while still retaining the favorite-uncle/neighborhood-guy appeal that helped get them to this point is not so easy. I expect Movers' fans will definitely enjoy the concert experience, but even those more unfamiliar with the band will likely be charmed at some point during the performance. It bodes well for the Movers' future, with or without TV.
Set List (Dec. 4, 2009, Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, AZ)
(Apologies if I get some of the titles wrong...)
Imagination Movers Theme
Intro / Simon Says
Can You Do It?
Brainstorm / TMBG Excerpt
What's In The Fridge?
Favorite Snack / Kiss Excerpt
I Want My Mommy
Calling All Movers / Van Halen Excerpt
Try Again / MC Hammer Excerpt
Season 1 Medley (Here We Go Again / Jungle Room / Monster in my Room / Nina's Song
We Can Work Together / Totally Awesome Drum Solo
In The Middle
This video was shot at one of the L.A. shows, I believe. Gives you a good sense of what to expect...
Imagination Movers - "I Want My Mommy" (Live)
Disclosure: The Movers' provided tickets for me and my kids to attend the show and to meet the band very briefly (along with a number of other folks) after the show. So now you know.