The Strumbellas’ afternoon rock show for kids at the Danforth was goofy and meta

The Toronto folk-rockers kept it cute without veering into children's entertainment territory

THE STRUMBELLAS at the Danforth Music Hall, Friday, December 23. Rating: NNNN

When I reviewed the Strumbellas’ third album Hope back in April, I accused the group’s lead singer/songwriter Simon Ward of underestimating his audience by writing repetitive, simple folk-pop anthems.

Apparently I had that backwards: I’d underestimated the power – and pan-generational appeal – of such instantly catchy songs. Big time. (Recently, it felt like that in stores not predominately playing Christmas music, the radio was tuned to a station that had the band’s breakaway hit, Spirits, on repeat.)

I’d lost sight of an untapped, yet vital, market for folk-rock: four year olds. And two year olds, and seven and eight year olds, and babies. When the Toronto-via-Lindsay band realized they had many fans that are too young to see them perform at night, they decided to put on an afternoon show for kids.

Sandwiched between two nighttime shows at the Danforth Music Hall, the Kids Afternoon Rock Show was goofy and meta an endearing experiment (for the band) in playing to a family audience, and (for the kids) a chance to go out to a concert.

Nobody seemed to know how they should behave, and that was probably the most disarming thing about the event. The band was relaxed and silly on stage, while the kids let loose, dancing, singing and sometimes yelling with abandon. Others were just cuddled in their parents’ arms. Adults followed their kids’ lead and sang along with gusto. Kids also took over the front row of the balcony, attentively leaning on the bars.

The Strumbellas thoughtfully tailored the set for the young crowd by keeping it short and sweet. They threw in pranks (Dave Ritter wore a ‘Doug’ hat), encouraged the kids to scream and clap along, and brought their own kids up to help out. (Ward’s son Theo and bassist Darryl James’ daughter Sophia sang on a cute song about Sharks, and during a rendition of Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer. Theo also told an impressive joke about a pterodactyl over the course of his stage debut.)

But the Strumbellas didn’t play the part of kids entertainers – the Strumbellas played the Strumbellas, but for kids. As a result, lyrics from Hope, such as “What can I say? I was born to be this way,” were imbued with a more innocent meaning.

After doing a down-homey version of In This Life (from 2013’s We Still Move On Dance Floors), James said, “This has been a real treat for us we started off playing at farmers markets, and there were lots of kids in the audience, but then we grew up and started playing bigger venues.”

Sometimes it’s good to un-grow up. | @sarahegreene

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