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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

The Wiggles @ The Milwaukee Theatre

Nov. 3, 2007

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November 08, 2007

Those without children under the age of 5 have probably never heard a single Wiggles song. Those with children under the age of 5 probably wish that they had never heard a single Wiggles song. In the burgeoning world of children's music, The Wiggles, a popular group from Australia whose four members (Sam, Anthony, Murray and Jeff) are known by the color of their shirts (yellow, blue, red and purple, respectively), have become a lightning rod for criticism. They are a band parents love to hate, as their incredibly simplistic songs will work their way into your brain and refuse to leave for days at a time. At the same time, a number of independent artists and record labels have begun to market their versions of children's music as "anti-Wiggle," by supposedly refusing to pander to the lowest common dominator represented by such musical numbers as "Hot Potato" and "Big Red Car," two Wiggles' tunes that are about, well, a hot potato and a big red car.

Yet the band's recent set at the Milwaukee Theatre revealed why The Wiggles are still capable of filling venues across the world: Their songs make children happy. From the first note of opener "Rock-A-Bye Your Bear," there were children literally dancing in the aisles. The band clearly plays for children, rather than at them, and their straightforward songs (which actually embrace some of the best features of pop music) sound much better live than on record. Perhaps more importantly, they really seem to enjoy interacting with the young people who worship them. The third wall between performer and audience was routinely broken during the performance, and the band's repeated forays into the crowd lent the show a strong populist appeal.

What was most striking about The Wiggles' set, however, was the level of self-awareness that the band seems to have. Collectively, they seem to understand the absurdity of providing background music for a collection of dancing dinosaurs and singing dogs. Bad jokes, silly skits and a series of calculated miscues (including a Spinal Tap-like sequence where cast members struggle to inflate a large balloon of red Wiggle Murray, only to have it continually fall down on them) serve to enhance this mood, giving the show a very chaotic, even vaudevillian, feel. Maybe the band isn't as uncool as its detractors would like to believe. .