On a hot Friday night in Toronto, drum aficionados and Frank Zappa fans gathered at the Royal Cinema, on the ethnically diverse College Street, to watch one of the last drummers in the history of music that can be called a genius – the diverse and prolific Terry Bozzio.
As the fans entered the cinema, Terry’s already uncovered humongous drum kit drew all the attention in the room. With 8 bass drums (one for each musical note), a plethora of cymbals and snares and a multitude of different percussion gadgets on the sides, it was truly a sight to behold, and a piece that deserves a place in The Smithsonian Institution or The Louvre Museum a few decades from now.
With no opening act and a strict no-cameras and no-mobile phones policy, Terry hit the stage at 8pm sharp, and faced a huge challenge right off the bat: getting past the pieces of his kit to get to his drum stool required contortionism abilities that would give any Olympic gymnast a run for his money. No longer sporting the spiky hair he was once famous for, he kicked the proceedings with the intriguing and hypnotic “Africa”, showcasing Joe Zawinul influences, and continued with “5 Flute Loops”, which had pre-recorded, new age-tinged keyboards, and exploded into a bass drum and crash cymbal war. Very early on, the fear of this being a show that could only be enjoyed by drummers was quickly dismissed: Bozzio’s drumming is so tasty, inventive and challenging, that it’s actually difficult not to be drawn by his intensity and involvement in each piece he plays.
Continuing on we had “Debussy”, which of course took cues from a piece by the French composer and expanded on it. Again, his songs are percussion-driven, but at the same time are incredibly musical. On “The Box”, Terry uses rattles, Japanese percussion instruments attached to his feet, a snare-shaped xylophone and a cajon. He then addresses the crowd and tells heartwarming stories about his career, his conversations with Alex Acuña and other musicians, and the origins of the cajon. He ended up this part of the show by saying that “at my age, any day above ground is a good day, but to go out and play music is a special day”, and closed the first set with the Caribbean-inspired “Slow Latin”.
“Pat’s Changes”, written with his partner in crime Patrick O’Hearn, kicked off the second half of the show, with Terry playing a mambo-style beat on the bass drums and exploring the different tonalities of his kit with the upper limbs. For those in the audience who are schooled in picking out time signatures, I’m sure there were some very odd measures throughout the night, but that’s not the main focus – Terry explores each and every piece of his kit to the maximum, ensuring every beat tells a story. On “5 Equals 7” he played increasingly complex ostinatos, showing an unmatched limb independence.
Once again addressing the crowd, he explained the vision he has for his music and how he learned to utilize percussion in a musical way. This led to a humorous moment, when he said “Music is a metaphor for the universe we live in. Next time you have a fight at your band’s rehearsal, say that to your guitar player and leave the room with dignity!”.
The last three songs on the set were “Awanolene”, the samba-inspired “7 & 7” and “Klangfarbenmelodie”, which could almost be split in two distinctive movements, given the difference in approach between the beginning and the end of the song: kicking off with jazzy flourishes, it quickly evolved to an almost metal beat. A triumphant and loud ending to a night of cool beats and a rare opportunity for fans to expand their musical palette and catch up with Terry on an intimate setting. With only a handful of dates remaining, this is definitely a tour not to be missed.
Africa / 5 Flute Loops / Debussy / The Box / Slow Latin / Pat’s Changes / 5 Equals 7 / Awanolene / 7 & 7 / Klangfarbenmelodie