Steven Erdman wasn’t trying to rip a song from the headlines when when he wrote the title track to his new album, Dreamers, but as often happens with his kids-rock group Lard Dog and the Band of Shy, a silly surface turned out to have a deeper core.
Erdman, a New York musician and cartoonist who performs as the character of Lard Dog, often cloaks messages of diversity and love in absurdist pop songs, and “Dreamers” was no exception. “It was written as a vote for optimism, and love, at a time when many of us are feeling angst about the political and social climates,” he said.
But this time, his music collided with the news in ways even he couldn’t see when he wrote it. Just as his band was preparing their second album for a Sept. 29 release, Donald Trump ordered an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era initiative that protected some 800,000 young adults, or Dreamers, brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
“I didn’t write this song expressly about DREAMers in the context of DACA,” he said. “I wrote it about all people who dream of something better, while accepting who they are, how they look, or where they come from. Now that the current administration is terminating DACA, I’m both saddened and sickened by a blatant disregard for the rights of people who came to this country as children.”
A cartoonist by trade, Erdman started Lard Dog in 1996 as a stand-up act for adults (mostly other cartoonists), then made it a kids show after his sons were born in 2007 and 2010. He built an off-Broadway show, “Life’s a Real Dream,” out of the character in 2015 and took it on the road to, among other unlikely places, Lollapalooza in Chicago.
The music on Dreamers ranges from reggae-inflected pop to second-line jazz and country courtesy of Erdman’s durable seven-piece band. “Take the Road” is a cabaret confection, with a piano backbone and a fiddle floating through it. The big horns on “Don’t Let the Boogah Bug You Out” sound like early-’90s ska and, as on “Dreamers,” disguise a dig at our current boogah of a president—or, at least, a tonic to help endure him. Each of the songs on the album is accompanied by an original piece of art by Erdman, and the one that comes with “Boogah” shows a barefoot, red-eyed Trump holding a smart phone with “twit” on the screen.
The characters in Erdman’s Dreamers artwork mirror his Lard Dog persona (with the exception of the Trump drawing): a little awkward and out of place, but with a smile on their face all the same. Erdman projects a geeky charm, a cross between Mr. Rogers and Jerry Lewis. Some of the songs on Dreamers are pure expressions of that juvenile streak—the slinky “Colander Sun” is not a metaphor for global warming; it’s just about one guy’s love for bowls with holes. But what shines through is a natural idealism that won’t be deterred by one useless boogah in Washington.