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World Music Review

Pounding It Out With Les Tambours


How's this for an entrancing evening of music: 20 or so young men, many of them shirtless, violently assaulting metal oil drums with ax handles for about 90 minutes--the action taking place in a setting of rapidly shifting lighting, clouds of smoke and pulsating strobes.

Sound like fun? Not for most of the audience who turned out to experience Les Tambours du Bronx on Sunday night at Pepperdine's Smothers Theater (the ensemble, despite the name, comes from the French town of Nevers, not New York).

What the moderate-sized crowd experienced was a semicircle of drummers, pounding their way through a succession of percussion pieces in which the rhythms were excruciatingly repetitious, the decibels at rock concert intensity. Occasionally one or two of the players leaped around the stage or shouted into a microphone, and intermittent electronic sounds added the only tonal variation of the program.


By the time Les Tambours reached their final few numbers, a good 75% of the crowd had departed, presumably having experienced as much sound, sweat and testosterone as they could handle.

Despite what advance notices may have suggested, Les Tambours' performance could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be equated to Stomp or Tap Dogs. Nor was it comparable to other, more appealing percussion collectives that come to mind--say, drum circles or samba schools. Nor was it, as some spellbound European critics have observed, the articulation of unexpressed tribal and ritualistic impulses within an emotionally repressive industrial society.

A more realistic reference point for a good part of the show, in fact, would have been the atmosphere surrounding a punk-rock mosh pit. So it was no surprise that the small audience that remained until the bitter end consisted mostly of young people, hooting and clapping with the group's largely simplistic, endlessly repetitive rhythms.

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