Tom Thum [FringeTIX]
Tom Thum @ The Deluxe
9:45pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012
Felicity Ward runs late, and I run through the horde of pissed people to get to Tom Thum. The dregs of the line are poking out of the Deluxe when I arrive; I’m at the very end. I follow the line in, and the place is packed; I go to the directing usher, and he points me to a booth that has four people huddled within. “Just sit at the end of the booth,” the usher says; I ask the residents permission, they affirm with a friendly nod, and I take a grateful seat… elevated, central, and with a clear and unimpeded view of the stage.
I feel like the luckiest man alive.
The usher returns, and leans in to the booth’s original occupants – “Would you guys mind moving to another booth? It’s sold out here tonight.” One of the woman is taken aback; “No way,” she says, “we queued for ages for this.” The usher leaves, and the group chuckle amongst themselves. “Fucking latecomers,” she jokes. “Hey!” I exclaim in mock pain, “I’m sitting right here!” We all have a laugh.
When the house lights drop, the audience starts cheering with excitement – there’s a tangible sense of anticipation in the air. When Tom Thum appears, microphone in hand, he smiles, takes a bow, and leaps into one of the most intense pieces I’ve heard him perform – fast and dense, his beatboxing defies description as he conjures up sounds so realistic, and effectively multi-tracks them so deeply, that it genuinely appears impossible.
And when this piece is over, and the microphone moves further from his face, Tom Thum appears to be… well, just a normal guy. He smiles and waves to the crowd with a glint in his eye that suggests that he can’t really believe that this is happening. And when he speaks, talking of the episodic nature of his life – on the road, or living with his parents – there’s a sense of the everyman about him. He knows what he can do, yet he remains remarkably humble.
He explains that the entire show is performed without backing tracks, that all the sound you we were to hear that evening was produced by his voice; fair enough, and true to a large extent. But then he introduces us to his set of three Kaoss Pads, which are projected (with an annoying significant delay) onto a video screen so that the audience can follow how he uses them… and these three Pads are used to sample, loop, and add reverb to the noises that he produces.
And, all of a sudden, a little of the magic is gone.
Because when he creates elaborate aural constructions using the loops and samples, I’m left thinking “this is pretty good… but you could do ninety percent of this unassisted. And that is what I want to hear.”
Don’t get me wrong: I love a bit of live looping… I love hearing a track develop and vary by tweaking the samples and loop segments. But this guy is so much more than a loop manipulator…
I guess that reveals some of the trepidation I felt before coming to this show. I’d loved Thum’s bits in previous Tom Tom Crew shows (except for the spray-painting in the Tom Tom Club), but I was wondering how he’d pad those stunning snippets out to a full hour of content.
So there were a few pieces using the Kaoss Pads. There was the brilliant “Breaking The Habit” mockumentary, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and featuring snippets from Ben Walsh. There was a pretty cool recreation of the sound effects and music from the opening scenes of The Terminator (or rather, The Tominator). And Thum tried to get a reluctant audience involved as the backing track for Billie Jean.
But I couldn’t shake the fact that I’d heard Thum perform that song solo. And whilst audience participation is (occasionally) fun, I’d much rather someone talented use that talent.
In the end, this performance is entertaining – but it lacks the intensity and impact of earlier Tom Tom Crew performances. That’s understandable, given that Thum is performing solo now, but it just feels like he’s spread himself too thin. A half-hour edit of this show would be pretty bloody impressive, though.