Show Review: Hot Panda at the Northern, Olympia 12/6/10

words by Ryan Lawrence Carr | photos by Heather Schofner | Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

What do you get when you combine toddlers and live indie rock? Hot Panda says their “best show ever!” As the base of operations for the Olympia All Ages Project, the Northern took their sponsor’s name seriously and put on a free low-amplification indie show for children. Within minutes of the doors opening, the hall was packed with two of the most under-represented age-groups at shows: children under 12 and their pushing-40-but-still-hip parents. The amps were turned way down, the show started early so the kids could be in bed by eight, and a generation of future musicians were no doubt inspired.

Before playing their mellow, reverb-drenched set, Long Mornings began by asking if they were quiet enough — something that would sound wrong coming from a band in any other circumstances. It was indeed quiet enough — the backing vocals weren’t sung into a microphone but remained completely audible while the drummer barely tapped on his mini Gretsch kit throughout the set. At times, the noise the children were making was louder than the full band. Despite being turned down, Olympia’s Long Mornings spectral keys and dual guitars cut through the clamor like a knife. Some of the children looked bored and antsy but others were thoroughly mesmerized by the introverted, layered music.

Hot Panda let one of the children introduce their first song, who proceeded to scream “Breaking Ninja!” into the mic. The band was obviously having a blast entertaining the kids; their whole set consisted of interactions with the children in one way or another. The kids were having a blast, too, as most were dancing recklessly at Hot Panda’s feet. Although they were forced to turn down, Hot Panda lost nothing from their performance. During a pirate jazz freakout, multi-instrumentalist Heath Parsons played accordion while standing on a chair. They played most of How Come I’m Dead, changing song titles and lyrics out of necessity when appropriate: “Fuck Shit Up” became “Mess Things Up.”

Even though it was likely that, for many in the room, this was their first exposure to indie rock, both the kids and their parents ate it up. The kids loved the way Chris Connelly sung like a mad ringleader, and the bands enjoyed playing to a much younger audience (“You kids are so much more entertaining than drunk adults”). Since Hot Panda are “practically from the North Pole” and “competing with Santa Claus,” they asked the kids up front what they wanted for Christmas. The kids enthusiastically responded with stuttered and screamed quips about toy Santa dolls, light sabers, and transforming things — as well as one girl who squealed that she wanted her own cat. Between every song Hot Panda would say something to keep the kids engaged and make them a part of their performance. The highlight was Hot Panda’s cover of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” although a lot of the kids didn’t recognize it.

After the show, members of both bands were commenting how much fun it was entertaining the kids. The Northern’s experiment with introducing children to indie rock was a wonderfully heart-warming success. If more bands and venues were to put on free events like this, perhaps there will be more originality and less Auto-Tune copycats in the next generation of musicians.

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