Review: Dan Zanes and Friends at Hilbert Circle Theater

Dan Zanes and Friends
at Hilbert Circle Theatre
4 stars

While the audience was dotted with young kids brought to the show by parents, the music of Dan Zanes performed at the Hilbert Circle Theater on Sunday was children’s music in name only.

In truth, Zanes, the former singer and songwriter for the 80’s Boston roots/rock band The Del Fuegos, makes music for anyone who will listen. It’s organic, homegrown folk and rock and whatever else you want to call music that is made by five people playing guitars, violin, mandolin, upright bass, drums, and other various instruments.

His 17-song, 70-minute set highlighted his ten solo children’s albums, including a healthy helping from the 2007 Grammy Award winning (for Best Musical Album for Children) record called Catch That Train!

From the time he led the band down the aisle to the stage singing “Lead the Way” and until he exited the same way, one thing was obvious: Zanes is a former rocker who has made a twist to his music to make it more accessible to a different audience. He still leaps and kicks and strikes rock star poses. He shimmies and dances and leads the crowd in singalongs. At one point early in the show he mentioned the theater was “a great place for a concert, if you want to sit and have a concert”, or the audience could choose to have a wild dance party. Cheers from the audience led them to move and dance and come closer to the stage.

The opening “Let’s Shake” and “The Fine Friends are Here” from Catch That Train! recalled the guitar sound of his old rock band, while successfully getting the party started.

Zanes, dressed in a black jacket with orange stripes, and orange shirt and brown corduroy pants, dipped into his new album, Little Nut Tree, while also pulling out some older favorites from the catalogue, including the upbeat “Jump Up” from 2001’s Family Dance.

The rocker, who I first saw when the Del Fuegos were the first of three bands on a Tom Petty bill in Detroit in the late 80’s, still has rock and roll energy. He also has an endearing habit of clicking his heels together à la Dorothy when he is particularly into the music.

After the sixth song, Zanes told a story of his appearance in Indianapolis three years ago when he began working with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Youth Orchestra for the first time. That experience led him to start the same tradition in other cities. He brought out the kids in the orchestra again to accompany him. They remained on stage for the rest of the show, lending depth and beauty to his performance.

A later show highlight included a performance of “Pay Me My Money Down.” The tune can also be found on Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions album from a few years ago.

The set closed with more music from House Party Time, a joyous version of “Go Down Emmanuel Road,” and a gorgeous performance of “Sweet Rosyanne.”

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