Review: Fiddle Virtuosos Childsplay Serve Up Hot Licks (5 Stars)

by Paul Meekin

Childsplay – at the Lexington Masonic Heritage Museum, December 5th, 2013.

Well fiddle me timbers! This was great. Fiddle lickin’ good, even! Upon learning of the 21-member-strong Fiddle supergroup Childsplay, I immediately went about informing all my friends and family about how some of the best fiddlers in the world would be performing in Lexington, Massachusetts. Having no takers, I went by myself.

The location, at Lexington’s Masonic Heritage Museum is an intimate one, with a capacity of probably a few hundred, tops. The whole venture was similar. There was a painting of George Washington on the wall posing with his palms outstretched downwards as if to say “settle, settle people, we’re here to have a good time, but lets not get crazy about it,”. Everyone in the audience seemed to know each other, talking about this guy they used to know or that girl they heard did that thing. Families were dressed in their Thursday evening second best. Clean jeans, polo shirts, and holiday dresses were the order of the day.

At one point a little girl ran up to her dad saying “Dad! Do you have any money? They have Chanukah music!”. Come to find out later, Hanukkah (spelled Hanneke) is the name of one of the fiddlers – whether that kid was a superfan or about to be a little confused when she popped that CD into her walkman, I’ll never know.

The show starts with a humorous number that I don’t dare ruin, save to say that it’s something legendary cartoon voice Mel Blanc would be proud of. From there, Childsplay fiddled their hearts out, mixing in original compositions with pieces older than the country I live in.

The fiddles were of course the focus, but the inclusion of a stand up bass, drums, flutes, and vocals added welcome layers to the performance. Those compositions with vocals performed by Lissa Schneckenburger, including the haunting ‘Dear Companion’ and gut-punchingly relevant ‘Leave No Millionaire Behind’ were a special treat that kept the show dynamic and fresh. Toss in a wonderful ‘handbone’ performance by the very-possibly-Santa-Claus Steve Hickman, the occasional piano accompaniment, and dancing from the stunning, gosh-I-wonder-if-she’s-single Shannon Dunne, and it was apparent that Childsplay was keenly aware of the one criticism I do have, and were eager to subvert it.

What is that criticism? That after some time, to a layman like myself, the swaying, oscillating notes can start to sound a little familiar. In fact, on more than one occasion they went straight into a second or third song in a set and I had no clue they were playing a different tune, which is forgiven almost as quickly as its thought of because of the musical command the artists on stage have, and the fact that for someone with more musical knowledge than myself, there’s likely worlds of difference between the songs that my untrained ear hadn’t noticed.

If I had to sum Childsplay up in one word, it wouldd be: Precision. At one point, I took notice of the fiddle sticks swaying back and forth in perfect unison. Up and down, all together. Up and down a little less. Up and hold. All together, all at the same time. If you closed your eyes you’d think you were listening to a CD that had been produced and tweaked to perfection by a producer. But no. It was all there, all live, and flawless.  

Fiddle music, or as I like to call it violin without pretension, is something I imagine most folks have a passing interest in – they enjoy it when they hear it, but don’t spend a lot of time seeking it out. The kind of tunes that you’d hear at a medieval festival like King Richard’s Faire, or during a party scene in a historical or fantasy film like Titanic or A Knight’s Tale or The Lord of The Rings. Seeing it live makes you want to seek it out.

Considering my own musical tastes lie in the world of the pop-rock stylings of Barenaked Ladies, Bowling for Soup, and Fountains of Wayne, the offensive-but-near-genius output of Eminem, and Kid Rock’s once rap, once rock, now country-rock deep tracks, I was unsure how this music I’d never heard live, that didn’t have lyrics, would grab me. So of course It grabbed me with both hands and wouldn’t let go. Childsplay now goes onto my various playlists along with James Taylor as the music I’ll enjoy while thinking or writing or getting stuff done. It energizes your subconscious while forcing you to tap a single toe or all five.

The best compliment I can give Childsplay is that it made me nostalgic for a time I would truly hate living in. A time before my precious laptop and fancy iPhone, a time when you cooked your own food and milked your own cow, when the idea of a harvest well done involved a barn, a few hay bales, a keg of ale, folks on the fiddle, a guy slapping his knees to keep the beat, and if you’re lucky, a pretty lass or two dancing to the tunes until their legs grew tired, at which point someone else would step in, keeping time.

For all our MP3s, Youtube music videos, concert festivals, and streaming ‘Pandora’ radio options, nothing feels quite like this show did. The fullness of the sound, the laid-back atmosphere, the dancing, the mutual gratitude between audience and the performers – it touches your soul in a way that only the best live music does. I’m not kidding when I say if I had to choose between seeing Child’s Play or The Rolling Stones (whom I saw earlier this year) again, I would choose Child’s Play.

…As long as they promised to play The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

…With a golden fiddle. For more info, go to: