To see a traffic-clogged, dance-driven, effects-heavy concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center is typical. From dark metal to Christian rock to country and hip-hop, the venue hosts about two dozen such shows each year.
But Wednesday’s 70-minute performance by preschool pop rockers the Fresh Beat Band stood out. Not because it was the “best” concert of the year – it was performed mostly to backing tracks, with songs that are, by design, not boundary-pushing.
Rather, the Fresh Beats bopped to the top of the concert crop for many fans because it was their first show ever.
And how do I know?
One of the Fresh Beats asked.
“How many of you are here for your first concert?” said Jon Beavers, who, with his basketball player physique, is the most vertically talented of the four Beats. At least half of the several thousand kids in the audience raised their hands or screamed an affirmative.
For these little fans, the Fresh Beats provided a positive and authentic concert experience – a preview, if you will, of what’s to come in their adolescent years, but a safer one. The songs they performed have titles like “Bananas,” “Just Like You” and “Reach for the Sky.” (My favorite, and probably that of many parents in the crowd: A cover of the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.”)
The ultra-clean dancing by the Fresh Beats and their four backups was sharp. There was plenty of showmanship, too, with bright turquoise, red, pink, blue and orange splashed across the stage, videoscreen and performers’ outfits. A confetti blast showered the crowd.
Even one of the most niggling aspects of most concerts – traffic – was present. In this case, though, the traffic wasn’t limited to cars lining the parking lot. It was also the strollers weaving through the aisles.
Those tiny kids in strollers, the safeness of the act, the talent of the performers – it’s all a tribute the Fresh Beat Band franchise, one that deserves high praise for giving young kids a positive musical experience. Created by the husband-wife Hollywood producing team of Scott Kraft and Nadine van der Velde, Fresh Beat ran from 2009 to 2013 as a Nickelodeon television show. (You can still see reruns.) The show centered on four friends who attend music school and form a band. There’s deejay Twist (played by Beavers), keyboardist Shout (Thomas Hobson), guitarist/violinist Kiki (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) and drummer Marina (Tara Perry).
Their work, and especially their music, transcended the soundstage and led to multiple tours on live stages, even after the December 2013 cancellation of the TV show. The Fresh Beats will be touring for much of the fall and winter, and an animated version of the series will debut in 2015.
What emerges most when watching the Fresh Beats live is the talent of the four performers. Beavers, who’s trained in theater, employs his lengthy frame to create exaggerated movements that capture the audience from afar. Example: When Beavers waves, he arches his back forward and extends his arms straight out to the crowd, as if he’s reaching to the kids.
Likewise, Perry – as the drummer – has a vivid stage personality that hints at her background in improv comedy. She plays with the audience, even enticing parents to join in the dancing.
Hobson and Gonzalez-Nacer are the two most talented musicians. Though much of the live show is performed to backing tracks, Hobson and Gonzalez-Nacer’s vocal abilities shone through, especially during a cover of “This Little Light of Mine,” in which they involved the audience.
While the Fresh Beats gig taps into the abilities of its performers, it doesn’t allow them to go all out. But in fairness, neither do most “adult” gigs. This show, like all others, needs to fit its audience. And little kids don’t fake smiles or pretend to be entertained.