Teen duo’s not kidding around
“It’s great to be back at the Hard Rock!’’ says the singer from the stage, clutching his electric guitar and addressing the audience like the veteran performer he is. It’s early in the set, and most of the sizable crowd is seated around tables on the floor, although a few people have already gotten up to dance. The singer shouts props to the evening’s two opening acts and then, with a shake of his tousled brown hair, rips into “Rockin’ Radio,’’ a catchy song with a revved-up rockabilly beat.
“All right, Marisa,’’ he says, turning toward the girl behind a drum kit that looks bigger than she is. “Show ’em what you got!’’ Smiling ear to ear, she goes for a drum solo, banging away at the tom toms and cymbals surrounding her - sticks, hands, and feet all in propulsive motion.
It’s a Sunday night at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, and the duo on stage is a dynamic brother-sister combo known as Michael & Marisa. This is the Kouroubacalis siblings’ fourth concert at the Hard Rock’s Cavern Club, and it’s also their fourth year performing together professionally. What makes this night, and these numbers, a bit surprising, however, is the fact that Michael and Marisa are, respectively, 11 and 12 years old.
“You may think, two little kids - what can they do?’’ Michael muses backstage, munching on ziti, fried chicken fingers, and french fries with his sister. “Or they see us and we’re not as big as they expected, and they’re like, ‘We hired these two kids? Are you kidding me?’ Then they see us play and they’re like, ‘Whoa.’ ’’
Bassist Jeff Maccora, 27, is part of the backing band that joins Michael and Marisa during segments of their show. “It blows me away - they’re singing harmony parts while they’re playing their own instruments,’’ says Maccora, a Berklee College of Music graduate. “I know some people who are my age that can’t do that, and they’ve been playing for way longer.’’
Exceeding the expectations of grown-ups has become par for the course for the duo. “First of all, people always think he’s the drummer,’’ Marisa says, motioning toward her younger brother and wearing a grin that lights up the green room. “So that’s always cool to surprise them.’’
Surprising people - a lot of them - is something the siblings will have a chance to do a week from tomorrow, when they’re scheduled to be among the 50 or so musical performers at Boston GreenFest 2009. But they won’t be playing the kid’s stage set up for the puppet and magic shows. Instead, Michael & Marisa will be joining local rock luminaries such as the Neighborhoods, Dirty Truckers, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, Lucero, and the John Powhida International Airport on the main stage at Boston City Hall Plaza.
For a duo that has played roughly 170 shows over the past four years - from tours to festivals to theme parks - GreenFest, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people during its three-day run of music, film, and green technology exhibits, feels like just another gig. Both kids claim they don’t get nervous before a show. Singing, playing, and - more recently - writing their own material (with or without the help of their musical director and Michael’s guitar teacher and occasional bandmate, Billy Garzone) felt right from the start, they say.
“I was born musical,’’ Michael says. “I didn’t like any toys - all I wanted was CDs.’’
Initially, Michael’s father, Steve, thought a good way for father and son to bond was for both to take guitar lessons with Garzone. Soon, the son - all of 6 years old at the time - surpassed his old man.
“I thought it would be the other way around - that I’d be showing him stuff,’’ Steve recalls. “But he was showing me. Then all of a sudden, the gigs started coming in and I turned into a roadie.’’
He and his wife, Janet, run the family’s North Shore toy wholesale business, which works with children’s charities. With the kids performing about 50 shows a year, it’s a full schedule for the family. “During the school year, it’s a challenge,’’ Steve admits. “By the time they get home from school, eat dinner, do homework, and have practice, it’s a lot.’’
Still, Marisa was eager to join her brother’s musical pursuits. After trying violin lessons, she settled on an instrument considerably less fussy. “I like to hit things,’’ Marisa says exuberantly. “So I decided one day, why not take the drums and then Michael and I could jam together.’’
That modest impulse has led to a management company, booking agent, and a debut album, “Kickin’ It Together,’’ that has sold more than 53,000 copies, despite being self-released last year without the help of a record label. Pretty heady stuff for a couple of preteens. Although Michael and Marisa seem so unfazed, so adult, about all this activity, the kids in them occasionally bubble to the surface. Contemplating his plate of food backstage before Sunday’s show, Michael blurts out a pronouncement. “I love fries!’’