Getting to open for punky British folk-rocker Frank Turner on a 46-city tour would be a big enough deal for any indie music act. But it’s huge to Koo Koo Kanga Roo, the chant-leading Minneapolis electro-pop duo that has been trying for years to outgrow its reputation as a kids-music act.
“We’ve been selling a lot of adult T-shirts at the merch stand,” Koo Koo rah-rah man Bryan Atchison confirmed.
Talking by phone from Vancouver, Atchison and his moustached bandmate Neil Olstad were about to make a 12-hour drive in their “tour van” (a Toyota Camry) to the next gig in Edmonton. They’ll roll back into Minneapolis on Monday, opening for Turner at the Varsity Theater on their way to East Coast dates.
Turner hand-picked the Koo Koo dudes after catching their playful, audience-participation-filled act four summers ago at the Lowertown Music Fest in St. Paul, the Englishman’s coming-out gig locally. “He told us right then and there that he was going to take us out on tour with him,” Atchison remembered.
So what’s a duo known for dinosaur-themed dance routines and other juvenile antics doing opening for a rather serious-sounding, sometimes political songwriter? “Frank has a really fun spirit that transfers onto his audience,” Atchison explained, pointing to Turner’s whimsical between-song banter and own penchant for audience singalongs. “We really do serve the purpose of getting them ready for him.”
Among the 1,000-plus-capcity venues on the tour so far, the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles was a pivotal stop, given Atchison’s and Olstad’s no-duh interest in prospective TV work. They ran into sound trouble while working the crowd with their 50-foot microphone cords, though, which led to unplugged singalongs of a couple campfire songs. “People said they were impressed how we well worked on the fly,” Atchison said.
Another bonus: “Frank surprised us the next day and bought us wireless microphones. He said they were an early Christmas present.”
Speaking of Christmas, the ever-savvy marketers will have a new Zumba-like dance-workout DVD for sale in time for the holidays. That’s in addition to their new picture book, “Unicorns Are Real,” set to the tune of a song by the same name. They’re not outgrowing the old fun and games, in other words.