Tom Tom Crew – Melbourne Festival

Melbourne Festival director Brett Sheehy may be right when he describes the Tom Tom Crew as “probably the coolest show of the Festival”, but he neglects to mention it is probably also the loudest.

Presented by: Melbourne Festival and Strut & Fret Production HouseVenue: Forum Wednesday, 5 October, 2011
 Tom Tom CrewMelbourne Festival director Brett Sheehy may be right when he describes the Tom Tom Crew as “probably the coolest show of the Festival”, but he neglects to mention it is probably also the loudest. Call me un-hip if you will, but the noise level was such that if I hadn’t been reviewing this show, I would have walked out and demanded a refund. Which is unfortunate, as it’s a fun, generally inoffensive show. A mix of acrobatics, hip-hop and percussion, it draws on the great Aussie tradition of groups like the Tap Dogs: a bunch of buffed blokes in Chesty Bonds singlets and jeans strutting their wares onstage. The troupe has been travelling the world since forming five years ago, and this Melbourne show marks a homecoming for many in the group. The audience, ranging in ages from 7 to 70 and including many family groups, seemed to enjoy the guided tour through the skills of the Crew. Leading the Tom Tom Crew is world-renowned percussionist Ben Walsh. His drumming skills are truly breathtaking – ranging from muscular taiko style virtuosity on plastic barrels to driving kit accompaniments of the acrobats. He further demonstrates his musical skills with his introduction of the Omnichord, an electric lyre-like instrument from the 60s, showing that pretty much any instrument can find a place in hip-hop. Pity his whimsical song was lost to the overwhelming bass mix. Matching him in virtuosity is the beguilingly youthful beat-boxer Tom Thum. I always thought that Bobby McFerrin was the master of vocal acrobatics, but this guy is on another plane entirely. The publicity isn’t exaggerating when it says he can conjure an entire orchestra from his throat. Split second transitions have him at one moment as Michael Jackson, the next Tibetan monks, mixed up with beats, full band accompaniments and all delivered with a sly sense of humour. As with most of the crew, he is a man of multiple talents – along with sharing how to create a whole soundtrack using sampling and looping technology, he also shows us (just in case we need to know) how to do a paint-up in Berlin. The show doesn’t seem to have a theme as such, except as a celebration of hip-hop and street culture and as an enthusiastic demonstration of all of these guys’ talents. It is top and tailed by ensemble acrobatic displays, which while not as speccy as Circe de Soleil (with which they have been compared), look dangerous enough on the small Forum stage, and communicate a strong sense of the group’s cooperative ethos. Throughout, highlight cameos are the lyrically beautiful duet between two very strong guys, sans singlets, creating muscular sculptures with their bodies; and the solo by Dave the contortionist, initially a gross out, but eventually just fun and visually fascinating. This segment was significantly enhanced by the lighting – something that could be used to much greater theatrical effect in other parts of the evening. The choice of venue for this show is beyond me. The Forum, with its ornate surround, is at odds with the show’s raw, naive nature. Ideally the Tom Tom Crew should be on the street, where that bone shuddering bass wouldn’t be such an issue (and one could escape if it were), or at least in a warehouse. But if you enjoy your hip-hop, it’s an enjoyable enough night out – just remember to take your industrial strength earplugs! Until 23 October, 2011 Book tickets:

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