Chromeo are Dave 1 & Pee Thug: purveyors of the finest 80’s funk for the noughties, the bastard love children of a drunken Prince, Hall & Oates threesome, and a band who put on a live show its physically impossible to be miserable during (and believe me I tried).
Prior to this gig I’d never seen a London crowd emit a collective titter of delight. However when Pee Thug placed the pipe from his trusty talkbox into his mouth and uttered a synthesized “Heeelllllloooo Lonnnndonnnn… We’re Chrom-eooooo” I swear the audience performed a massed gleeful belly chuckle. My pregig mardyness was swiftly replaced with an ear to ear grin, while Pee’s oversized hoodie emblazoned with the New York Subway map (see pic partially obscurred by the back of my head) also drew some admiring glances.
Do The Talkbox
Pee Thug’s Talkbox is key to the Chromeo sound, but what is a Talkbox? Most people’s first thoughts are its a vocoder thing like “on that Cher record“, but there are in fact no computers involved. Pee explains: “a talkbox takes the sound of your synthesizer and puts it through a speaker. There’s a tube attached to the speaker, and the sound travels through it to your mouth. You then shape the sound with your mouth, and back into your mic. You’re not speaking, you’re shaping“.
Idolising Zapp‘s Roger Troutman as a youth it took him a while to master the instrument, as well as learning to cope with the rattling teeth, headaches, and potential electrocution that can come with it! (click here for an excelent interview with Pee Thug).
Also watch Stevie Wonder showing off his Talkbox skills over on YouTube.
Dave and Pee have been best friends since they were teenagers in Montreal, although Pee is originally from Lebanon, leading to tongue in cheek claim that they’re “the only successful Arab/Jew partnership since the dawn of human culture. Although they’ve been dismissed by some as a little more than a nostalgic 80’s tribute act, catching them live its obvious that although they’re certainly having fun, they’re deadly serious about the music, and most importantly about getting the crowd dancing and shouting along.
“Needy Girl” was one of the tunes of 2004, and unsurprisingly it goes down an absolute storm tonight, sounding bigger than before, the synths stronger, the talkbox louder, and the fantastic scratching breakdown midway through even funkier than on record (if that’s possible). Its a timeless funk-pop classic, setting Chromeo the tough challenge of beating it on their soon to come 2nd LP. Even after its been played some in the crowd still shout out “Needy Girl” leading Dave to say “come on we’ve got like 20 other songs apart from that!”.
Tracks from their debut album are rapturously received, and like “Needy Girl” are all improved by time, and the fantastic live sound. Dave introduces an epic “Mercury Tears” with a hilariously clunky intro story of how although they’ve been friends for years some nights Pee keeps ringing him and wanting him to come round… (exasperated expression) and he just wants to say to him… (cue “Mercury Tears” opening talkbox lines) and mass sing-along:
“I don’t want to be with anybody at all
I don’t want to be seen with anybody at all
The world is much to big for me to handle alone
But I don’t want no friends, I want to stay on my own”
Dave is in full axe mode as he churns out riffs on his perspex V shaped guitar, with Uhhh’s and Owwww’s for “Destination:Overdrive“, while the gigantic chorus of “Rage” provides one of the many moments of the night. Massed hands are thrown into the air as everyone bellows “RAAAAAGE!”. Even tracks which passed me by on the album like “You’re So Gangster” sound like old friends on this form.
And so to the new album, can it match the success of their debut?
Dave who peppers any gaps between songs with gags, anecdotes, and generally working the crowd says their new label is “working them like Little Richard” with the aim of breaking into the main charts. Stand out new tracks included “Tenderoni” which Dave’s promoting as the new word to describe “your girl“. First single “Fancy Footwork” looked worryingly like it might be a “Cha Cha Slide” cover version at first, as Dave morphed into DJ Casper in front of our very eyes explaining how he wanted to bring back the two step as the new/old dance craze everyone must learn. Pee Thug gallantly demonstrated the moves at Dave’s insistence. Listen to “Fancy Footwork” here.
After two encores they departed victorious with the crowd still baying for more. Sadly looking at their Myspace page the highly touted secret free gig at the Old Blue Last turned out to be a guest list only industry liggers event leaving quite a few Chromeo fans who turned up bitterly disappointed. It would be a shame if their visit is remembered for that instead of the phenomenal show they put on here (and in all likely hood at the Old Blue Last too).
Chromeo – “Needy Girl” (MP3)
Chromeo – “So Sexy (R. Kelly & Twista)” (MP3)
Buy: “She’s In Control” LP from Amazon / New LP in May
Watch: Needy Girl (YouTube)
Loads of in the studio clips, live performances, and general titting around on their Myspace blog
Dirty Dancing’s superb pictures from the Old Blue Last “free” gig