The brainchild of Belgian musicians Jonas Vermeulen and Boris Vanseveren, backed by powerhouse producer Richard Jordan, this coming-of-age performance is played in an electric fusing of musical, dramatic and visual art: a storytelling-concert.
The silhouette of an artist standing behind panels of parchment puts quill to paper, playfully drawing a topless woman in distress. The heavy metal of grunge guitars kick in, with a mother’s horrified discovery of her runaway child heard through a megaphone: “TOMMY!!!”.
Heavy textures give way to softer notes, as Little Tommy (voiced sweetly by Vermeulen) cycles over hills in search of his first look at the sea. While songs drive the adventure forward, Sarah Yu Zeebroek’s live-drawn and unembellished illustrations sketch a landscape of dispossessed figures.
These characters lend songs that critique the status quo: guards rock to an anthem about police brutality and pepper-spray; plights of workmen in an industrialist society are jammed into mechanical melodies. Yet primacy isn’t simply given to musical refrains and Yu Zeebroek’s print. In Vanseveren’s eccentric and suspenseful turn as a hunter stalking his prey, sweat running from his brow, we see his body pushed to the brink. Similarly, Vermeulen’s gurgling and phlegmy performance as a liquor distiller suggests that guttural and biological sounds are much a part of the score as the instrumentation.
Supported by Pieter-Jan Janssen’s pulsating bass lines and Thomas Deckx’s inventive drumming, the sound contains a lot of surprises. One number by a jaded woman propositioning the young hero for sex is quite tragic, lamenting a more beauteous youth, and is sung over Vanseveren’s gorgeous guitar while Vermeulen’s fingers surf the keyboards.
When all its devices collide in a mysterious finale, you can’t help by share Johnny’s view: an open sea of new possibilities.
The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy is playing Summerhall (Main Hall) until 30 Aug. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.