The number of concerts I have seen is minimal. My brother says this is because I hate music. I don’t hate music, really, I just can’t be bothered to listen to it that often. An iPod is out of the question as I need to hear the phone conversations of those around me. I do not own a car. And putting on a CD, like cleaning the shower, seldom crosses my mind. Even when I worked for a radio station I rarely attended their live music events. I hated the dismal playlist and tuned in only to hear how my comedy bits turned out. Overall I’ve never been a music buff and the idea of sitting or standing still and watching a band is so painful that I have avoided doing so as often as possible.
My first concert was Madonna, and for that I am ashamed. Even though the Beastie Boys opened for them I still can’t get rid of the taint. I hit a snowbank and trashed my car on the way to see Rush. In my lifetime I have seen the Smiths, Beautiful South, Divine Comedy, B-52s, Elton John, Cousteau and a few others I can’t recall. I saw Shawn Mullins and John Mayer only because I knew them, which makes seeing a concert more interesting. The fact of the matter is I pretty much can’t stand concerts and to tolerate them requires that I drink a lot.
Unfortunately this is not possible when seeing the Wiggles. The Wiggles are a children’s act, and as a result I will have a child with me. It would be unbecoming to be slurring the words to Hot Potato with a child in tow.
The Wiggles consist of four men: Jeff, Murray, Anthony and Greg. They each have a color and a shtick: Jeff wears purple and is narcoleptic. Murray wears red and plays guitar. Anthony wears blue and overeats healthy things. Greg wears yellow and likes to do magic tricks, like a non-gay David Copperfield.
The troupe is accompanied by a pirate who doesn’t rape and kill but rather tickles people (Captain Feathersword), an octopus that likes to dance (Henry) an intelligent dog (Wags) and a dinosaur that eats roses (Dorothy). They have some dancers. They make incredible sums of money.
In the cesspool of children’s entertainment the Wiggles are quite tolerable. In part this is because they appear organic – not the product of a corporate boardroom meeting. That would be the opposite of the terrifyingly insincere and creepy Barney or the Wiggles rip-off The Doodlebops – a soulless pre-fab show with two flaming gents with mops on their heads and a chubby girl dressed as a piano. Everything about The Doodlebops suggests it was designed to sell albums, concert tickets and merchandise.
The fact that the Wiggles aren’t awful means that I am willing to pay $69 a ticket plus a $10 service charge to see them, sober, in concert with my son. $158 gets me two seats, front and center, purchased via Craigslist from a woman whose husband I will wind up shushing halfway through the show. He was bellowing at length to a friend about a PowerPoint presentation, and for the money I paid I want to hear lyrics like “Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car.”
Popcorn is $4.50 for a cereal-sized box. My son takes a great liking to it. This is because he has never had popcorn before, and that is because he’s not old enough to eat popcorn. This is something I did not know until later when I told my wife what the boy ate during the show.
A liter of Coke is also $4.50 – giving me yet another reason not to see concerts. Despite it being a children’s show the vendors passing by us do not appear to have food or drink for children. I believe this to be more of a Madison Square Garden rather than Wiggles oversight. As a result of the venue’s apparent juicelessness this will also be my son’s first experience with large quantities of Coke (a.k.a. diabetes juice).
A woman announces that the Wiggle named Greg is ill and back in Australia. I can’t remember if he’s the yellow or blue one. The audience moans before giving up a round of applause for the replacement, Sammy.
After the co-stars dance to a medley of Wiggles songs – most of which we’ll be hearing in the next hour and fifteen minutes – the four main characters arrive on stage in the Big Red Car, a car that is big and red. The lyrics have cleverly changed to reflect that it’s Sammy driving the Big Red Car and not Greg who’s illin’ in Oz.
From the beginning it becomes clear that my son really enjoys popcorn. He eats handfuls of it, and despite having a $79 seat of his own chooses to sit on my lap while doing so. In the row in front of me is a large woman, her son and her husband. The large woman is very, very excited about the show. I come to this conclusion after watching her shout, jiggle and generally get way too into the whole scene. She’s about three clicks of the dial short of a Beatles on Ed Sullivan level of enthusiasm. It is too much enthusiasm for me to feel comfortable in her presence.
My son is unusually placid, eating popcorn and taking in the scenery. I would have to say that the show was 35% of the reason he stayed still. The remaining 65% was his newfound love for popped corn.
Each Wiggles character has songs specifically about them, and we’re treated to most of them – which makes sense. If you’re going to fly a woman in a rose-eating dinosaur outfit over from Australia you’d better sing about her. I have to keep reminding myself not to be judgmental – that lyrics like “fruit salad, yummy yummy” aren’t meant for me.
This being my first Wiggles concert, I am unaware that many individuals approach the show in the same manner as the Rocky Horror crowd. People bring roses for Dorothy the Dinosaur and bones for Wags the Dog. This gives the cast a chance to dash out into the audience to mingle as they collect the tributes – something that excites many small children and the large woman in front of me. “We love you Jeff! We love you!” she screams at one point. At another she frantically waves a rose in my face, desperate to catch the attention of Captain Feathersword standing in the aisle behind me – ostensibly for her child’s benefit, but really for her own. For the bulk of the show her husband sat quietly, no doubt pining for a slimmer, rational wife who didn’t go batshit crazy for lyrics like “quack quack quack quack cock-a-doodle-doo.”
During the course of the concert I realize how pervasive the Wiggles are and how they have completely infiltrated my life. I know all the songs. I know all the lyrics. I haven’t memorized lyrics since 2000 when my take on Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady topped the now defunct mp3.com charts. But now here I am, able to sing along like the crazy lady in front of me and a lot of other folks. But I do so very subtly, primarily because I’m a fairly normal non-toddler who is easily shamed.
Children dance in the aisles, and it should be noted that all children – regardless of race – lack rhythm.
The show has all the necessary things to appeal to children: bubbles, a disco ball, large screens, spotted dinosaurs. Lyrics like “see him dance in his pirate pants” are amusing – for my sober self anyway.
Again, what sets the Wiggles apart from an abomination like Barney is a sense that this is a labor of love, not profit. The performers crack each other up and generally seem to be having a good, not-very choreographed time. That said, they’re making a fortune, not only through ticket sales but souvenir junk like programs, apparel and $15 flashlights. But there’s a reason I am at a Wiggles concert, and it’s because they’re the only folks I think I could stomach. Besides, the only other show my son watches is the 1974 debut episode of Sid & Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost – a special effects suckstravaganza I’ve effectively committed to memory by now.
After a little over an hour they announce the last song and offer the obligatory “You’ve been a great audience!” At other concerts, like when I beer-slept through the latter half of Elton John, this all would have been a blur. But tonight is a special night and I haven’t had a smidgen of firewater. I can recall the whole show and if I had a car I could drive it.
The last song ends, and so does the show. Lots of applause. The crazy lady in front of me wraps up her seizure. My son completes his popcorn eradication program. Unlike most concerts there is no encore. This is great because I always hated the idea of encores. When you are finished singing I do not want you to hang out backstage and make me labor for your return. I want you to exit, so that I may begin making my way out of the venue. That’s exactly what happens. Show over, lights on, and I join the throngs of parents running the gauntlet of $15 tchotchkes to make their way home – presumably for a beer.