Drum Tao Mackay Entertainment Centre 1 July 2008

Friday, 4 July 2008

Conduct an opinion poll among rock concertgoers on the subject of drum solos and you’ll more than likely find a range of opinions, particularly among fans of what are generally termed jam bands and there’d be a variety of answers that would be difficult to place on a positive-negative continuum. How would you classify a response that, for instance, suggests the fan looks forward to the drum solo as an ideal toilet-break or drink-replenishment opportunity? Would that be a positive (I really look forward to the drum solo) or a negative (because it gives me a chance to slip away and not miss anything much)?

Not that there were too many people going missing during the performance by Drum Tao at the Mackay Entertainment Centre on the evening of 1 July 2008.

Hughesy, of course, as a collector of unofficial recordings by jam bands has heard more than his fair share of drum solos, since any performance by the Allman Brothers Band these days features a segment referred to as “JaBuMa” (Jaimoe, Butch Trucks and Marc Quinones being the drum duo and percussionist) that may stretch past the quarter-hour mark.

As a result when ‘Er Indoors appeared asking whether I was interested in going to a concert by a Japanese drum ensemble I wasn’t likely to be put off by experiences of extended ennui while performers display their proficiency in the area of percussive paradiddles.

The rock drum solo is, after all, something that takes place on the drum riser towards the rear of the stage while the rest of the band take a breather backstage. The drummer/s more than likely had their chance for a break during the acoustic mini-set somewhere in the middle of the performance.

On the other hand, given the physical exertion involved, you’d question how it’s possible to maintain high intensity tom tom pounding for the best part of two hours while maintaining audience interest at the same time.

First up, it helps to have around a dozen performers and a variety of percussive devices. With that many players, there are plenty of permutations and combinations to draw on.

A couple of other instruments, in this case flutes and koto, provide light and shade in the performance, and a constant rearrangement of instruments on stage between and within numbers throughout a highly choreographed performance helps to provide visual variety. But, in the end, it’s all about drums, and the sheer pounding power of these instruments is something to experience. Two sets (fifty minutes and a little over an hour) finished with a standing ovation and, while the audience was left wanting more, it’s difficult to imagine the performers had much left after a show that was awe-inspiring in its athletic intensity.

Not that everything was flat out percussive pounding. There was, as previously intimated, light and shade provided by the flute-players and while the advance publicity played on the martial arts aspect of the performance, a couple of baton-twirling interludes provide a visual counterpoint in a performance that’s already visually exciting.

Given the current economic and financial circumstances, the ticket price (a tad under eighty dollars) and associated costs (motel $120, lunch and dinner on the day of the show, lunch on the way back, fuel costs etc.) could have been enough to talk us out of going. A ballpark figure of four hundred dollars isn’t exactly peanuts.

It’s not the sort of show you’d go back to see a couple of times on the current tour since I don’t think it would vary much from night to night. Given the fact that we’re talking a highly choreographed performance and the logistical complexity associated with rearranging the drums on stage from number to number that’s entirely understandable. 

A quick check of the tour schedule reveals they’ve been on the road since the start of the year with a two week break in the middle of Europe, a two-week transition between Europe and Taiwan and a two weeks in transit between Taiwan and an Australian tour lasting till late August, so it’s unlikely that the show will have changed by the time they’re back in our big back yard (Townsville, 27 August, no venue details at the time of writing), presumably on their way home.

But when they’re back in the neighbourhood after that we’ll be taking a serious look at catching the performance again.

© Ian Hughes 2012