Plenty of bands take steps to reach out to their fans, but few of them go as far as “interactive dance party” duo Koo Koo Kanga Roo, who hugged literally everyone in attendance after their University of Minnesota—Morris show on March 22. They’re currently touring in anticipation of their upcoming album Whoopty Whoop, out May 13 on Asian Man records.
The guys, Bryan and Neil (who perform using just their first names), described the tour as a “smorgasbord.” They kicked it off with the Current’s Rock the Cradle at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on March 2, and are playing a varied crop of venues across the United States. “We played some elementary schools, we played some house shows, we played some bars, we played at SXSW, we played at a college in Colorado, played a bicycle shop, played a brewery,” Bryan recalled. “We played a…gay biker bar…back patio tiki club or something.”
Whatever the atmosphere, Koo Koo Kanga Roo have no problem fitting their kooky, high-energy show into the mix. “At bars, we’re drinking, and there’s beer available at the show, but that’s about it. The shows are pretty much the same, the set-up is the same,” Neil explained. “There are a couple of different songs that we’ll use more for kids sometimes. It’s not because of the content, it’s just that for the kids we use the less complicated ones.”
“When we play for kids, we have to watch out where our knees go,” Bryan joked. They promise they “have not ever kicked a kid in the face,” knocking on wood.
In Morris, it didn’t take long for Bryan and Neil to energize a sizeable crowd of college students. Openers Austin Plaine of Minneapolis, Weathered of Mankato, and Shinobi Ninja of Brooklyn all had impressive sets; the latter of the three, a hip-hop/metal fusion outfit, inspired a group shout to the chorus of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep till Brooklyn” and plenty of headbanging.
Koo Koo Kanga Roo kicked their set off with “Dinosaur Stomp” and immediately had the room stomping and “chomping” along. This song is one of the many featured on the Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s House Party: A Dance-a-Long Workout DVD, a popular fixture in elementary school gym classes. (The routine is also familiar to Minnesota indie-theater fans: Natalie Rae Wass and her clothes-free cast borrowed “Dinosaur Stomp” for the curtain call of their 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival hit Fashion Risk or the Accidental Nudist.)
Bryan and Neil say that the key to a good dance routine is “simplicity”: easy enough for kids to follow, and easy enough for adults to jump into, even if they are unfamiliar with the guys’ material. “They might not dance at the beginning (of a show), but they will at the end,” Neil said.
A new move in the Koo Koo Kanga Roo repertoire is the rotary hip-swing of “Fanny Pack,” the first single on Whoopty Whoop. “The record sounds like Jock Jams,” according to Neil, and fans can expect songs about pizza, cake, unibrows, and “Pogo,” which saw the Morris audience hopping around nostalgically on imaginary pogo sticks. “This is the first record we’ve done in a long time that doesn’t have a theme,” Bryan said. Whoopty Whoop is also Koo Koo Kangaroo’s first release with a label, Asian Man Records, who have dubbed Bryan and Neil’s style as “FUNCORE.”
“We’ve never, ever done an official release in the past,” said Neil. “Usually it’s like, if we’re putting out a record we tell you like, two weeks ahead of time.” Working with a label, he says, has been “great; we’re lucky that we get to do it.”
The crowd at Morris was extremely receptive to Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s dance party antics, as it provided a much-needed break from the grind of late-semester school work. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had ever,” I heard someone say. On their final song, “Awesome Rainbows,” Bryan and Neil—as is common for their live shows—pulled out a gym-class-style parachute and invited the audience underneath, to everyone’s child-like delight.
Koo Koo Kanga Roo are described as “a kids band for adults too,” and, if their Morris show was any indication, they are out to prove that fun—and dance parties—are ageless. In the next year, the band plans to release, in addition to the new album, four new kids’ books (they’ve got one out to accompany the song “Unicorns R Real”) and a board game. “That’s in beta mode,” Bryan said. “But we’re never gonna do scarves. I’m anti-scarf.”
KT Lindemann is a senior at the University of Minnesota, Morris, pursuing studio art and Spanish. She is a native of the Twin Cities and is a wannabe musician, artist, and music writer.