Cartoon planet: TTC's road to nowhere

MUSIC REVIEW- Cartoon planet: TTC's road to nowhere


Tom Tom Club 

at Starr Hill Music Hall
Sunday, September 14, 2003


Perhaps the best song you'll hear all month here in town is the one Tom Tom Club played in several incarnations September 14: their 1981 worldwide hit single "Genius of Love." It's superficial and unaffected, a one-of-a-kind light delight that explores the ecstasies of love, African-American music, and (maybe) cocaine. It's a song about "fun, natural fun," whose performance answers the question: "How wonderful would life be at its most unreal?"

If "You Sexy Thing" wasn't already candy enough– even the Talking Heads' cover of "Take Me To the River" felt too sensual for an art-school vibe– the Tom Tom Club's renditions at Starr Hill reduced them to bouncy, all-smiles funk-pop. Married couple Tina Weymouth (deep bass) and Chris Frantz (metronomic drums) laid down an incredibly tight and efficient groove with the same recognizable chemistry of their early T. Heads days.

Over the top, Weymouth and her sister delivered gorgeous and girlishly sweet vocal harmonies, a recipe for rainbows if I've ever heard one. A particularly helium "Only the Strong Survive" reminded me of some funky anime hippo, a dancing Pokemon waiting to give you a hug.

With TTC's light keyboards and lighter vocals, everything turned cartoonish, an other-world within the distinct, boxy Starr Hill stage.... Two pretty, middle-aged sisters wiggling in blue stage light, their bellies showing. A tall Jamaican man wearing (and not wearing) a multi-colored mesh shirt, leaning off the stage as if for his close-up. Bodies falling to the stage before the Funk Lord.

During "L'Elephant," arms unself-consciously imitating elephant trunks. Too much hair on everyone in sight. And how it flew about in rhythm, frizzy, curly, tangled, human sparklers held by hyper children.

So what if they played "Genius of Love" only once? (So what if I find Frantz's shouts of "James Brown!" and "Yo yo yo!" too disturbing to seriously broach here?) This band is consistent, even when drawing on 20 years' worth of material.

This is a band whose hit "Wordy Rappinghood" posits words themselves as foreign objects, as black holes. If Weymouth incongruously mentioned the Equal Rights Amendment, or the guitarist let out a horrible screaming solo (an evil-eyed hawk tearing at the Pokemon!), it barely distracted the shouting, dancing crowd. When TTC borrowed from zydeco or dancehall, it was little more than a tint on our TV screen.

The Tom Tom Club's performance wasn't very artful. But it was animated, and most of us were too wide-eyed to care.

Tom Tom Club