Tom Tom Club
October 10, 2010
The Hype: The Tom Tom Club burst from the stomach of Talking Heads in 1980. Tina Weymouth took her funky bass lines, Chris Frantz his complex drumming rhythms, and with some of the spirit of Talking Heads--world influences, clever songwriting, general eclecticism--the pair concocted a new mix.
This was not just any side-project, for the Tom Tom Club quickly made it to the charts with proto-rap songs "Wordy Rappinghood" and "Genius of Love." The latter has been sampled and remixed approximately a million times. And yet, every time you hear that peppy synth line, followed by the bend in Weymouth's bass and the smack of that simple-yet-addictive beat, it still sounds as fresh as ever.
The Show: Tom Tom Club is forever fresh.
They've been playing for 30 years, but the husband-and-wife team of Weymouth and Frantz have barely aged at all. If anything, their nimble fingers and legs put all of the younger musicians that I've seen lately to shame. This incarnation of the Tom Tom Club is made further complete with old friends, like Victoria Clamp, who added a lovely extra layer of vocals, and Bruce Martin, who juggled keyboard lines and tropical percussion with ease.
Here, everything shines with the passage of time. Their older songs, like "The Man With the Four-Way Hips," sound like gritty photographs re-touched with the power of funk, while their newer songs, like "Punk Lolita," have nostalgia written right into them ("this is about going to CBGB's and seeing all the cute girls who would do anything for their guys").
"Tina! Tina!" boys in the crowd cried, and she smiled at them, this over-eager group of kids. "Very good," she said. "How many of you know how to say my last name?" "Wayyy-mouth!" shouted a large portion of the crowd. "Sorry, guys," she said. "It's 'wimmuth.' Like Plymouth."
With this gentle reminder, she counted her band off into their cover of "Under the Boardwalk," which, to be honest, has always sounded a little cheesy to me. But even cheese ages well...
Perhaps their set was so good because they were fueled by some of Southern California's top-of-the-line hole-in-the-wall Mexican food. "We've toured all over the place, and we can honestly say that California has the best restaurants," Chris Frantz said from behind his drum-set. His wife elaborated: "We ate at this place called Taco Zone tonight. It's like high school when you hang out at the Taco Zone. High school with no bullies."
Can you imagine such a teen dream? Tom Tom Club has always been able to conjure teenage fantasy in their music: it's flirty; it's fun; it swaggers with a feminine charm that David Byrne, legend that he is, could never reach. Weymouth may be perennially adorable, but she's a genius in her own right.
Which brings us to the aforesaid hit, "Genius of Love." This song was an absolute knock-out. What was formerly a love song to puppy love and youthful inspirations (like "James Browwwwn") has now been imbued with a sense of reminiscing, of realizing how much they've grown even while they sing about "walkin, rockin and talkin" with boyfriends. This cute wrapper filled with serenity matched its singers--Weymouth and Clamp hopped around the stage in matching sequin mini-skirts and sneakers, but every time they came back to the chorus, they summoned a stately power that no schoolgirl could match.
Even though the set-list as a whole was solid, that song--that song!--created its own peak. Its energy carried over to "Wordy Rappinghood," where Weymouth rapped my favorite line ("Words are like a certain person who can't say what they mean and don't mean what they say...") while her fingers coaxed out a bumping bass line.
For their encore, they pulled out two classics from the Talking Heads' repertoire: "Take Me to the River" and the scintillating "Psycho Killer." No problems there, since the first one's a cover and the second was written by Byrne, Weymouth and Frantz. These final songs simply proved that Tom Tom Club are more than capable of matching the magic of live performances like those on "Stop Making Sense."
Unfortunately, this killer performance did opening act Paul Ryder no favors. It must have seemed like a good pairing on paper: here's the former bassist of UK '80s band Happy Mondays, and he's sort of got a David Byrne vibe...? But Paul Ryder last night was more like 2001, Windows-Media-Player-default-song David Byrne. Which is all right, y'know, but...a little disappointing.
Either Tom Tom Club has adapted to the times better than many of their contemporaries, or their sound, in an era increasingly receptive to genre-blending, has become timeless.
Critic's Bias: I can only aspire to be like Tina Weymouth as I age.
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The Crowd: "I was worried this was going to be a sausage fest," Weymouth said. "Thankfully, I can see a lot of lovely ladies out there." Well, thank you, Tina.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Laurie Anderson. Laurie Anderson. Laurie Anderson." - promoters outside the door, chanting the name of another iconic '80s woman as they handed out fliers for her show.
Random notebook dump: God bless the woman who bought my friend and I drinks (she said we reminded her of her daughter). An absolute saint.
Who Feelin It
Under the Boardwalk
The Man With the Four-Way Hips
Time to Bounce
Genius of Love
You Sexy Thing (I Believe in Miracles)
Take Me To the River