Define "success." When people occasionally ask me to do this, I invariably answer: "Tom Tom Club." Then they go, "What?" And I go, "Here -- listen!"
So it was, that, struggling for communication amongst typical L.A. know-it-all movie geeks, last week I received an email which ignited my mitochondria: Tom Tom Club are coming to town! (Really? Is this possible? OMG! Etc.) Forty-eight hours later, atop a SoCal mountain on a balmy October Saturday night, within the spacious sci-fi courtyard of the Getty Center, I joined a few hundred shockingly happy and easygoing people in getting reacquainted with what Success looks like. And sounds like. And grooves like. Oh, and it was Genius, too: "Genius of Love." I'm...in...hea-ea-eaven...
Tom Tom Club: Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Mystic Bowie.
Eat your heart out, Roger Waters! Tom Tom Club rock "the wall."
Why the gushing? It's merited. At the core of Tom Tom Club are Tina Weymouth (bass, vocals) and Chris Frantz (drums, vocals), easily the sweetest rhythm section in pop music. They cofounded Talking Heads (they steal the show just before the Big Suit in Stop Making Sense), and around the time of that group's airwaves-altering album Remain in Light, the happy couple ventured down to the Bahamas with a bunch of friends and family and started a little pet project of their own. You know the hook to "Genius of Love" -- if, like me, you first heard it turning heads via a boombox in the schoolyard, it's in your DNA -- and five brilliant studio albums followed, leading to Live @ the Clubhouse (2002) in its curiously misleading plain brown wrapper (there's a glorious party inside).
Neil and Geddy, look out! It's Chris and Tina!
Victoria Clamp and Kid Ginseng rock the mic.
Tom Tom Club's new double-CD release, Genius of Live, contains one disc of remastered gems from that show, plus a disc featuring eleven widely-varying remixes of "Genius of Love" by the likes of Money Mark, Ozomatli, and Kinky (love that Pac-Man sample). Put simply: "There's no beginning and there is no end." The Genius returns. To borrow Frantz' catchphrase: "Check it out!"
Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom!
Sheila E., look out! It's Bruce Martin!
I was in England (mumble-mumble) years ago, when I heard that Tom Tom Club had a new album out called Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom. This too was a major surprise, and a friend and I joyfully trained into London to catch 'em live (with Kirsty MacColl, no less; sigh). That was astounding, so allow me to share my massive pleasure that they kicked off the recent Getty show with that album's soulful "Suboceana." (When I returned to America, everything seemed to go to hell in a handcart, pop-wise -- "grunge" and "gangsta" and all that stupid ugly shit -- so I was particularly moved by this choice of opener; frankly it felt like hitting Reset on life!)
Tom Tom Clubbers rock the Getty!
I'm not Mr. Setlist, but for the next hour and a half Tom Tom put us gyrating Clubbers through a time machine of their classics and a few choice covers: "4-Way Hips" here, "Sexy Thing" there -- with "Genius" in the middle; pretty sneaky, sis! Tina introduced "Punk Lolita" (from their collective album with Jerry Harrison as The Heads) thusly: "It's dedicated to all those wonderful girls at CBGBs who supported all their boyfriends through thick and thin!" Sensational surprises rocked the courtyard, including sparklers off the first album like "L'Éléphant" ("our anti-war song...they try to disguise themselves as 'men,' and they're told to take off their beastly, stupid costumes"), and their masterful cover of "Under the Boardwalk" ("Grab your girlfriends, and your wives, and your boyfriends -- this is for you"). And those breakout hits "Wordy Rappinghood" and "Genius" have never sounded fresher.
Um...Adrian Belew, look out! It's...FUZZ!
Huge props to this amazing band. (Now I want to get married so they can play the party.) Turntablist Kid Ginseng brings a cutting-edge hipness to the set, adding -- I guess the correct word is "sick"? -- flourishes to knockout numbers like "Genius" and "Who Feelin' It." Spellbinding throughout is Victoria Clamp (also of BlondStreak) sharing lead vocals and just generally wowing the socks off everybody (and I mistakenly thought Tina Weymouth and Hillary Clinton were the only blondes worthy of my attention). Guitarist Fuzz (I asked him; he is Fuzz) and keyboardist/percussion-deity Bruce Martin thrillingly propel these purely danceable yet deceptively intricate songs. You need to see this band.
Skrrrtch, thump and whap: Ginseng, Weymouth & Frantz.
In particular I'd like to rave up Mystic Bowie, the vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and reggae sensation who imbues Tom Tom Club with Caribbean magic. Given the breadth of world-class musicianship roaming through the Club's revolving door -- from P-Funksters to Melody Makers -- a certain degree of booming and zooming is expected, and Bowie (that's Mystic!) brings it. His new album nevah kiss & tell has been Rasta-rocking my world -- even though I'm a complex guy who loves rain, his thoughtful and sunny paeans to simplicity like "mountain top" and the irresistible "itty bitty house" really hit home; and his larger themes of family, freedom and responsibility sit well in shades of folk, dancehall, ska and smart reggae syncopation. Plus he's as "fun, natural fun" with Tom Tom Club as they are with him -- yep, all the way to "Take Me to the River." After the show, I rode the tram down with Kid Ginseng and Mystic Bowie aboard, and asked Bowie how he and the Club hooked up. Apparently there was a Mardi Gras celebration in New York, and he was the only reggae act booked but needed a backing band. He got Tom Tom Club. They got him. Imagine that!
"Fa-fa-fa-fa, fa-fa fa-fa fa fa..."
And as for that Talking Heads legacy, it's there, it's alive, it's good. Not only do Chris and Tina get out there and own "Psycho Killer," but I distinctly heard "Houses in Motion" over the P.A. whilst they busily signed their new CD for fervid fans. They're funky Club, they're brainy Heads, they're both. Related anecdote with full disclosure: I am totally over cars, and I rode the bus to the Getty. On the way back, I overheard a girl playing Tom Tom Club apologist to one of those loud, self-important quasi-brainiacs, saying, "Well, that was fun. Not exactly intellectual, but fun." Exsqueeze me? Complicated gender-relations? Elemental tableaux? Reverently name-checking countless R&B legends? Pachyderm peace metaphors en français? Bridging massive socio-political gaps with a bounce and a grin? Not "intellectual" enough for you? Puh-leeze. This is "a greater depth of feeling."
Tom Tom Club: What's not to love?
So why exactly do I consider Tom Tom Club to be Success? Well (one more lift), "words have always nearly hung me," but I'll give it a go: Because...somehow these two nerdy-artsy white folks mustered the audacity to let love literally conquer all. They're inclusive; this party is for everybody. That is Success. We can all take a nice hot rhythmic lesson from that. (And it wouldn't be excessive to call their original breakthrough valiant.) I welcome them back -- with their Genius cohorts, and fellow appreciators! -- with an unselfconscious groove move. There's only one Club card I want in my wallet, and that's Tom Tom Club.
My signed CD. Scope it on the Getty model, because it's never going to ebay!
Tina and Chris: Just sitting around at home, being mega-awesome.
Tom Tom Club rock the Casbah in San Diego, Tuesday 12 October, 2010. They're in New York on Thursday 14 October at Santos Party House, and Saturday 16 October at Brooklyn Bowl. And watch for a new tour in 2011!