So, I said in my WW preview of this show that "this here rag doesn't pay me enough to possibly come up with a pithier description" for this San Franciscan children's music group than the L.A. Times' "The Flaming Lips of the toddler set." Ironically, it is on this blog, for which WW pays me absolutely nothing
to contribute, that I shall prove myself wrong.
Call them the Kindergarten-Scissor Sisters.
Just like that allegedly adult group, the Sippy Cups take the implied make-yourself-a-superhero theatricality of glam/disco fashion and, like magicians pulling a string of colored scarves out of thin air, reveal it as nothing more -- or less -- than dress-up for grown-ups. And then, they cleverly locate all that is most childlike in rock music -- addictive, sing-songy choruses with simple lyrics, feel-good humor, psychedelic cartoon imagery -- and reveal it as musical common ground between kids and adults.
While a good two-thirds of the Sippies' set is comprised of original material, the rest of the time they're explicitly making those connections between "real" rock and junior rock, transforming not only songs by obvious contenders such as The Beatles, but even Ramones and Velvet Underground tunes, into kids' fare. Sometimes, that's accomplished by retro-fitting lyrics ("Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go, I wanna be elated!"), but often by a simple change of perspective. After the band's first song, lead man Sippy Paul asked the assembled children at the front of the house if they liked to ride their bicycles, and let a few kids tell everyone about their bikes. Then, without batting an eye, he said, "Well, here's a song by our friend Syd Barrett, and he has a group called Pink Floyd, and they like to ride their bicycles too!!" They proceeded directly into a remarkably faithful version of Piper at the Gates of Dawn
's madcap closer, "Bike." (However, they did alternate choruses between Syd's "You're the kind of girl who fits in with my world" and the new, gender-balancing "You're the kind of boy who likes a shiny red toy.") With everything Syd went through on earth after writing it, it really felt nice to imagine his spirit smiling calmly down, watching a theater full of kids bopping along to his song.
The Sippies' orignals, meanwhile, are tuneful, eclectic, and instantly memorable. The idea of a power-pop message song called "Use Your Words" is genius enough for any band, and the atmospheric "I Am A Robot" (complete with the coolest costume of the day) set a mood Radiohead might envy.
Seriously, I felt more of a buzz in the Aladdin before this show than for all but very few shows I've seen there -- even though, admittedly, those audience members actually crying were doing so not in anticipation of seeing their musical heroes, but because of a missed naptime. And there was more effort made to break down the so-called "fourth wall" between stage and audience than all but a few performances I've seen anywhere, extending the wildly colorful aesthetic of the sets and costumes into the audience with huge, primary-colored, bouncing balloons, and reflective streamers shooting into the house. I mean, if a band did something like that at the next show you saw, that would be pretty cool, right?
Musically, the band's as simple as it needs to be, with Sippy Paul on lead vocals and some keys, Sippy Joe on drums, Sippy Moby -- er, Rudy -- on bass, Sippy Alison on keys and vocals, and Portland-born Sippy Mark on guitar. And, in the tradition of Hazel's Fred Nemo, Sippy Doug doesn't play, just dances -- except he does it on a unicycle while juggling. The engaging Sippy Paul comes across as a less-weird Pee-Wee Herman, and everything you'd want in a rock 'n' roll frontman (except, perhaps, crotch-grabbing -- though in this context, that's definitely a good thing).
Granted, my girlfriend and I (as well as the Doug Fir's Alicia Rose, who's a friend of the band) were about the only people I saw there without kids, but I got the sense that, if need be, the Sippy Cups could convincingly rock out a group of grownups, too. And we didn't need to wipe any noses or change any diapers! Hah! I hope they come back soon.
The Sippy Cups' Website
Image: The Sippy Cups and assorted groupies, from baymusic.com