I remember the first time I first saw Tom Thum, he was beatboxing for giggles with a couple of local MC’s and a hip hop DJ (who was my current beau way back then) at a tiny unknown club in Brisbane that no longer even exists: I was thinking, “Gees, that kid has got talent, I wonder if he could take this somewhere?”
That was ten years ago – who would have thought that a decade down the track Tom Thum would be fronting the Queensland Symphony Orchestra with the awesome acoustics of the Concert Hall, and that I would be reviewing him (with much anticipation might I add). Who would have thought in that decade a young boy from Brisbane would take Australia (and the world) by storm with the ‘orchestra in his mouth’ and having the most viewed TEDx performance video of all time with over 40 million views and still counting!!! Who’d have thought...
Gordon Hamilton and Tom Thum have come from opposite ends of the musical scale and joined forces, backed by the powerful sound of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, to bring a show unlike any other symphony you have, or will, ever see again. In a two act program that brings you not only Tom Thum’s technical, gobsmacking and often comical talents, backed by the equally astonishing talents of Conductor Gordon Hamilton, but also delivers a taste of classical symphony, infused and inspired by the 1977 collaboration of David Bowie and Brian Eno and conducted by internationally recognised Jessica Cottis.
The first section of the program sees the Queensland Symphony Orchestra perform Phillip Glass’s Symphony No.4 – Heroes. The atmosphere amongst the audience was definitely one of surprise. Not your ‘usual’ symphony crowd but a mix of traditional symphony patrons, sitting next to guys with snapbacks and Nike Hi-Tops, all anticipating what was to come: undoubtedly at least half of the audience not expecting the first half of the show to be completely instrumental, with Tom Thum no-where in sight. Many were pleasantly surprised to have been exposed to something more than they bargained for. With twists and turns, winding from whimsical to dark and building layers upon layers of deep doomsday sounds you really got a feel for the ‘freaky deaky’ that fans come to enjoy in that Bowie musical style. It does give one ‘food for thought’ to pay more attention to the background music the next time one watches Labyrinth: even the conductor was busting a few sly dance moves!
The second half of the program sees Tom Thum performing alongside the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gordon Hamilton. Sitting next to Concert Master Alan Smith on the left, Tom Thum had his collection of contemporary instruments, complete with note sheet behind. What a surreal set up; two completely separate genres of music side by side, their representatives whispering in each other’s ears. Tom Thum starts with a deep bass, almost robotic and distinctive in its sound. Gordon Hamilton shoots a look from his podium and with a wave, QSO hits back. By gads, it’s a beat box/symphony sound battle! QSO leads – Tom Thum underpins and the feeling is undeniably sympatico. A heavy breath out and the audience applauds. “Don’t feel like you need to golf clap your way through the evening – it’s ok to get loud”, announces Thum and the hi-top half of the audience breathes a sigh of relief. Hamilton then adds, “Welcome to the sound of severe sonic-Tourettes” and next song sees Thum move through everything from the Mexican shoot-out to opera singer to alien contact to Rolf Harris’ wobble board. QSO match and blend perfectly and I am left feeling like I am inside Fantasia, with a heavy hit of funk. With hilarious comedic interludes, some Abbot and Costello type back and forth (“relinquish the ‘chopstick’, there’s probably a triangle that needs playing somewhere” – Thum) you can tell that Gordon Hamilton and Tom Thum are having all of the fun, and the feeling spreads like wildfire throughout the musicians and the audience.
Hamilton explains his composition named Tom’s Crate was based on the records Thum gave to Hamilton to help him learn about the hip hop greats that were Thum’s bread and butter. Never in my life did I think I would live to see the day that the QSO would perform a rendition of Wu Tang Clan… Weaving the beautiful sound of classical through the hip hop greats made the crowd go wild, and when the musicians began to play Papparazzi by Xhibit, it was safe to say most of that audience will die happy. Never have I been so ensconced by a stage performance, waiting to see what would come next.
Sampling Tom’s ‘bee sounds’ ad-lib and creating the bass for Horns of War was no shortage of amazing ability either, nor breaking that ‘fourth wall’ to include the harmonies of the audience to create even more musical genius. The ‘horn-off’, seeing Thum make identical sounds to the trumpet and tuba with aforementioned instruments hitting right back, you honestly struggled to tell who was making what sound. Finishing with Ratchet Face and Thum beatboxing over a well-known classical piece has the crowd giving a well-deserved standing ovation. What a show, I could have watched this forever! For a show this enticing and entertaining I would travel anywhere in the globe to see this collection of stunningly talented composers of pure fun, time and time again!
How lucky I was to have the opportunity to see them just down the road! Breathe out...
2015 Brisbane Festival
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Venue: Concert Hall | Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane
Dates: 18 Sep 2015
Tickets: $60 – $35