Tom Thum is amazing. There’s no two ways about it; someone who can reproduce an entire song with only their voice and a few loops is amazing. There are lots of positive things to say about his set: from his stunning entry as a robot, crammed with ultra-high and subwoofer sounds; to his engaging explanation of the loop, sampler and reverb effect table.
The centrepiece of the show was an amusing short film entitled ‘Breaking The Habit’. It cast Thum as a recovering beatboxing addict who can barely speak without adding a vinyl scratch here or a drum beat there. He has been alienated by his habit, he says, losing jobs, friends and family. It was a surreal way to vary the gig and it gave Thum’s vocal cords a necessary rest.
During the course of the show, the audience watched him weave entire songs together convincingly, just with sounds that he made himself. Thum provided a soundtrack for the opening scene from Terminator 2, which was projected across the back wall of Bristo Square’s Underbelly. The ‘sound requests’ section was fun, eliciting Chewbacca and bagpipe noises amongst others. His conversational asides were engaging and light-hearted. There was a beatbox battle. He even did a section of The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’. Twice.
Now all that’s out of the way, this review can address what was wrong with Thum’s hour-long set. Aside from an unfunny video clip and a segment of audience interaction that petered out too soon, the biggest problem was that several of the songs are too similar in style and ‘instrumentation’. The same skills were wheeled out again and again: in particular we heard Thum’s vocal drum beats and his impressive saxophone sound far too many times, spoiling their magic.
Thum is incredibly talented and his tricks are mind-blowing, but they are too few to fill an hour-long one-man show without repetition. His history as part of acclaimed modern circus act the Tom Tom Crew shows his excellent pedigree, but outside this variety show context his abilities are not enough of a mystery. By blowing all of his best material in the first five minutes of the show, Thum numbed the audience to his undeniable, jaw-dropping skill. Potential audience members should be aware that after half an hour of this glittering beatboxing, there is little left for the audience to experience.