If there is a more challenging artist working the seamy birthday party and Park Slope Parents hootenanny circuit than Randy Kaplan, I have not met his acquaintance.
Kaplan’s great gift for kid-centric blues-rock was on display yet again at Park Slope’s Southpaw during a happy hour gig on Sunday afternoon (it was happy hour for the adults; the target audience limited itself to sippy cups and juiceboxes).
I found myself, as always, unable to adequately praise Kaplan, who, in just a few years, he has established himself as the premiere act on the circuit.
Where other saccharine-set stars sing about space ships and moon-shaped pizzas, Kaplan plumbs the truth of today’s childhood experience. He sings of roaches scurrying behind your walls. He sings of mosquitoes. He sings of having the blues (albeit for grape juice).
Kaplan is a modern-day Leadbelly crossed with just enough Laurie Berkner to maintain the childish merriment.
Indeed, one of his biggest sing-along numbers is his pre-teen version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” In Kaplan’s version, the “want” is no Jagger-esque masculine longing, but a just-as-passionate wish for pancakes and Halloween candy. The kids in the audience must relate, because the number never fails to inspire the 6-year-olds to sing along. If you can get 50 6-year-olds to sing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the treats they crave, you know you’re hitting kids where they live.
Kaplan may never become a kids music ambassador like the lovable Dan Zanes. And he won’t sell records like the Wiggles. But his is the true voice of discord and subversion.
Where other singers pull out “This Land is Your Land,” Kaplan is more likely to sing about a shark slithering up though the sewer system and demanding, “Shampoo me!”
Where other songwriters limit their lyrics to circuses or taxi rides, Kaplan has a new song in which he bemoans an unruly cat because its claws are to close to a “Chagall lithograph I inherited from my grandma.”
We all know such animals, but only Randy Kaplan writes about them.