Kids of Widney High,

Amoeba Records, Feb. 28, 2008

By now, I hope that most people reading this know who the Kids of Widney High are, so I'll only briefly mention their story for those who might have forgotten. They're a group of disabled students (or former students) from a Los Angeles special education high school that write and perform their own songs with the backing of teachers, and session musicians on instruments. The group's songs are funny, clever, sometimes even touching. Playing live, they also usually repeat the chorus a good ten times or so, but the songs are so catchy, it's not a big deal, and it encourages a lot of singing along from the audience.

No one mentioned how long the Kids of Widney High have been writing and performing songs, but 2008 marks 20 years since the program started, and the Kids' debut album came out in early 1989. Twenty years! Though they're known everywhere, they really are a California institution at this point, they've appeared on Kevin & Bean Christmas tapes, acted in a Johnny Knoxville movie, and played more shows at the Smell and Mr.T's Bowl than the average Echo Park indie band.

Tonight, seven of the Kids including Cain, Pee-Wee, Daniel, Shelley, Elisa, traded off lead vocals on a dozen or so songs, starting with a cover of “Respect,” with lyrics that fit their situation a little closer than Aretha's. Tanesa not only sang, but translated a lot of the lyrics into sign language for the crowd of a couple hundred people. How often do you see a band do that?

Frankly, I was worried that the Kids of Widney High would have such a rotating cast that some of my favorite voices and songs would be retired. If there's always a new class of Kids writing new songs, then would our favorites from the Ipecac CD no longer get played? After all, even the Rolling Stones subject their audience to a good half hour of “ones from the new record,” when what we really want to hear is “Midnight Rambler.” Luckily, the Kids didn't disappoint.

To the crowd's joy – and mine – they played a lot of their old songs. “Insects,” “Teacher's Pet,” “Trash,” and Shelley's excellent scream-along anthem, “Every Girl's My Girlfriend.”

The Kids have one song in particular though, that gets stuck in my head for days every time I think about it – as much as Paper Lace's “The Night Chicago Died.” It's “Life Without the Cow.” Daniel, who has as mellow a baritone voice as any professional TV announcer, sang it excellently. Some of the lyrics may have gotten a bit lost in tonight's rollicking 7-voice rendition, but there's no denying how good this song is.

Don't read too much into the chaotic din of this YouTube clip. The Kids of Widney High sounded much better live than it sounds here, and the albums – if you haven't heard them – are crystal clear, and well worth listening to.

If you've got another ten minutes or so to check out the Kids' YouTube page and watch some of their antics on stage and off:

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