Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tom Tom Club @ The HMV Institute, Tuesday 19th July 2011

For people of a certain age Tom Tom Club will probably forever be associated with one of the most naggingly catchy tunes of all time...Wordy Rappinghood...”with a rap rap here and a rap rap there, here a rap there a rap everywhere a rap rap”. Its mix of insistent synths, Latino percussion and this strange new thing called ‘rap’ seemed a pretty exotic concoction back in 1981. To be fair it still does today. It’s amazing to think that this year sees the track and band’s 30th anniversary and it’s as good an excuse as any to check back into the Club to see what else they’ve been up to. Of course the other undeniably big draw of Tom Tom Club is the husband and wife partnership of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, aka 50% of one of the greatest new wave acts of all time, the mighty Talking Heads.

If you had to sum up the whole gig in just one word it would be pretty easy - joyful. From the opening bars of Who Feelin’ It (from 2000’s The Good, The Bad and The Funky album) on to ‘the hits’ and through a couple of familiar covers (Under The Boardwalk and You Sexy Thing) Chris, Tina and co seemed to be having a hell of a time up there. It’s not polite to mention a lady’s age but if I have half the energy of Tina Weymouth when I’m...ahem...whatever age she is...then I’ll be a happy chappie. Hell, if I had half her energy now I’d be chuffed. Tonight she was joined on vocal duties by Victoria Clamp (who’s been in the band, on and off, since the late 80’s and has her own group, Blondestreak). Together the pair danced, sang and joked together like a pair of 18 year olds, cracking through a 15 song set that revealed a fair few hidden gems from the back catalogue. The reggae groove of She’s Dangerous, the more funk driven Punk Lolita (tonight dedicated to “our good friend Debbie Harry”) and the blues tinged L’Elephant (en Francais...naturallement) underline just how many genres the band’s happily played with over the years. Tonight these tracks all seemed a little fresher though, partly down to the current touring version of the band (all of whom really know their shit...musically speaking) and, more importantly I guess, the obvious joy that they had in playing to a modest but adoring crowd on chilly Tuesday in Birmingham. It was The Man With the 4-Way Hips that came as the biggest surprise tonight though, with some frenzied bongo playing capping off a groovy run through a bit of a lost classic (it reached the dizzy heights of number 82 in the UK charts back in 1983). Less lost, but equally classic, are the two big Tom Tom Club hits. Genius Of Love came first, its glorious mix of flavours and summertime grooves as fresh and oddball as it was nearly three decades ago. You’ve got to love Chris’ vocals on this. Perched behind the drums he really nailed those “James Brown’s”. Glorious. Who needs to think when you’re feet just go eh? Genius was separated from its big sister single by a kittenish reworking of You Sexy Thing (a cover dating back to 1991’s Dark Sneak Love Action album), again some furious percussion and a bit of subtle scratching from newest member of the band, Kid Ginseng, added a surprising freshness. What can you say about Wordy Rappinghood? It’s a stone cold classic from a time when pop ruled the world. A piece of musical insanity that wilfully plundered from more genres than most of us knew existed at the time. Chicks On Speed based their entire career on it and I reckon a lot of other bands owe this track more than a passing debt. Just listen to it again and you’ll hear what I mean.

After the traditional going off and coming back on bit the encore kicked off with Clamp’s fine take on Take Me To The River before a crowd pleasing Psycho Killer. Watching this tonight you realised just how crucial Tina and Chris were/are to the Talking Heads sound. Tina’s bassline and Chris’ drumming were the bedrock to this track and its reinvention as a Tom Tom Club number added a funkier feel that, once again, sprinkled some fresh fairy dust all over the mother culminating in a frantic 60’s style freak out. Bonus points for Tina’s mad staring eyes by the way. Scary.

The band hung around at the end and I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris and Tina. These are the dudes who hung around CBGB’s with Blondie, The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and The Cramps and a nicer couple you couldn’t wish to chew the fat with. Tina in particular was quite happy to chat about this and that (I can exclusively reveal that she shops at Forever 21...and why the hell not eh?) and it was only our eviction from the venue that curtailed the nattering, otherwise I reckon we’d still be there. 30 years on and this is one club that’s still well worth getting in to.

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