Unless you're well-acquainted with someone under the age of eight, you might not understand the hoopla about Yo Gabba Gabba! Live!: There's a Party in My City, which is coming to the Fox Theatre for two shows on Sunday, March 21. Or maybe you do: The Nickelodeon show, which is filled with retro graphics, indie tunes and CGI-free characters in furry suits, has a fan base that goes beyond the juice-box set.
The show's cocreators, Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz, worked together with Jacobs' band, the Aquabats, before developing the television version of Yo Gabba Gabba! "We come from being in bands," Schultz says. "We're first and foremost musicians who love entertainment and wanted to do a music show. Yo Gabba Gabba! was our answer to a music show. Bringing the whole musical element of a variety show to a kids' show was just natural. It seems like our show, more than any of them, just translates onto stage."
The television show, which started its third season on March 8, has featured acts such as Mates of State, the Ting Tings, Devo, Weezer and Of Montreal. "As the show progresses, we've been able to have so much involvement from guest stars and bands," Schultz says. "The caliber of people who want to be on the show is just incredible."
Even with mainstream popularity, there's no plan to abandon the show's indie roots. "First and foremost it's types of music and bands that will be friendly to kids and that they can understand and relate to," Schultz says. "At the same time, they can be exciting, fun bands that Mom and Dad maybe don't know but still can still get excited by. You know, bands that aren't the top level or A-list. That goes for the celebrities, too. I think we're searching for celebrities who are exciting and fun for the kids and not necessarily who's really popular right now or has a show they're trying to promote. We're sort of anti-promotion. It's for the kids." The company keeps much of the stage show's plans private, with surprise guests that make each city's show unique. For the St. Louis show, it's perhaps safe to assume Jacobs' Aquabats will join the Yo Gabba Gabba! party, since the band is playing the Firebird later that night. (The band's spring tour roughly coincides with Yo Gabba Gabba! Live!'s tour schedule.)
While Schultz no longer plays with the band, he's excited about the coincidence. "Christian and the Aquabats performed at one of the shows in LA, one of the first shows we did," he says. "The Aquabats got a real major response from the audience. We're ready to come to St. Louis."
Yo Gabba Gabba! might be excited to hit the Lou for another reason, though: Its star, DJ Lance Rock, is better known in local music circles as Lance Robertson, vocalist for the local '90s electronic band My Other Self, Vintage Vinyl employee and owner of record store Deep Grooves. Schultz and Robertson met after the latter moved to Southern California, when they were both in bands in Orange County. The friendship led to Robertson's role as the orange-jumpsuited DJ in Gabbaland. Schultz chuckles at the prospect of DJ Lance explaning his journey from St. Louis to Gabbaland during the show. "That's an interesting thought. I should talk to Lance about that. I think that would be funny to mention it. I'm sure he's going to have a lot of fun at the show. There's going to be a lot of friends there. Lance is really good at being personable onstage. I don't know anything specific, though. That's going to be a real special show because it's Lance's homecoming."
For Schultz, the live show brings a gratification that's different from its television success. "For the television show, it's more of a moment with Mom and Dad or the brothers and sisters," he says. "At the live show, it just feels particularly more exciting. So many other people, so many people dressed up in homemade costumes. It's a special moment."
"I love those kids," he says of their audiences. "There's a few types of people I spot in the audience. One is the special-needs kids and their parents. I think they have a real connection with our show that I never expected or intended. That's such a joy to me. And the high school and college kids — they have their own special attitude about it. I think it's funny, and it's fun. It's not mean-spirited. For them it's a way to shirk off this really serious thing they go through with being an adult. They can be a kid again. That's what I'm searching for with the show, to have fun and re-find that child inside and that excitement of going to a show."