The Verve Pipe, a mea culpa | Kidzapalooza 2012
It's hard to forgive the one-hit wonders of our youth. For me, that song is the Verve Pipe's The Freshmen, which dominated my senior year of high school, exactly the type of track kids force-internalize as the broody soundtrack to the small dramas of high school life. But I could never get past the maudlin "grief-stricken sobbin' with my head on the floor"–ness of it. So when I was putting together the online feature package for our Kidzapalooza coverage this year, I joked to TOC Kids editor Judy Sutton Taylor that I couldn't believe I worked for a magazine that was recommending the Verve Pipe. "Well, you're just going to have to make us all cooler," she responded. Now if only someone had said that to me when I was 17.
I was reminded of Judy's rejoinder when I was sitting in a ballroom at the James Hotel at 9am on a Sunday morning, covering Kidzapalooza's annual free Very Important Rockers event. The Verve Pipe were due up for an acoustic set—having put out a kids' album a couple years ago—and I was half-asleep and thinking about heading to the catering table for a croissant when they came out and played "Wake Up." Their performance of it matched the energy in the lyrics, and it struck me as something the Schoolhouse Rock crew probably should have written. From there, the band kept churning out these funny, insanely catchy power pop songs aimed at kids but retaining (and recalling) enough rock elements for the adults. Also, being a band for 20 years means you're going to be exceedingly skilled and tight as a unit. All of which is to say that their set was so good that I was actually looking forward to seeing them play three hours later at the Kidzapalooza festival proper.
And sure enough, they put on another awesome set, one that had me forgetting I was watching kids' music and singing along. But it's there that I was also forced to confront my cynical side come to life. About two-thirds of the way through their set, a couple of cool kids showed up just to heckle-request "Play that freshman song!" Yes, I wanted to squash them, mostly because if you're there to catch Outasight and stop by to heckle at a kids' show, you're already living a meaningless life. But it also made me wonder what the experience was like for the guys in the Verve Pipe. There you are, playing on the kids stage of this mega-festival, where you would probably be rather playing (and making a lot more money) on one of the large headlining stages, and in the middle of your set some hilarious 20-year-old in a tank top comes and tries to embarrass you by requesting the hit song you wrote when you were 20. It has to be a mixed bag of emotions, is what I'm saying.
Part of me felt bad, that maybe my deeply embedded cynical 17-year-old had called forth this barely post-pubescent heckler. But seeing that side of me in action—in the middle of a truly great rock show (mostly about breakfast cereal, yes, but still)—helped kill it dead. Also, it plainly revealed how outdated that way of thinking about the Verve Pipe was. No one was really amused, because everyone was having a good time, especially the band.