Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Thievery Corporation :: 03.19.09 :: Electric Factory :: Philadelphia, PA
As music evolved so did the modern musician. During the summer of 1995 Rob Garza was frequenting Washington DC's Eighteenth Street Lounge. There, he met co-owner Eric Hilton and the two connected as DJs and enthusiasts of global sounds. One thing led to another and the swing-a-ling mobile known as Thievery Corporation was born. You can almost picture the Eighteenth Street Lounge back in the day as the two were hatching a brilliant plan to thieve the best world musicians away from their paths of normality. Think of them like Bill and Ted minus a time traveling phone booth. They had a vision to create something entirely new, a seamless mix of music for an extensive range of listeners. They coined their idea as the "Outernational Sound." Quite the fitting term because they were creating similar music that had spewed for years from rootdowns in Kingston, chic lounges in Paris and depot parties in New York. Today, Thievery Corporation is thriving on an international level, pimping their armada of cool in support of the latest Grammy nominated album, Radio Retaliation.
Philadelphia's Electric Factory boomed from the outside, echoing against the nearby buildings. Inside a DJ spun reggae and beats until about 9:30. From there it was a free-for-all, and what we thought we knew about Thievery Corporation melted in a series of repeated shouts of "Oh my God!" and "Wow, look at that crowd!" The Philadelphia mob is notoriously hit or miss. For Saturday night's tour closer, it was a hit crowd through and through. Once Hilton and Garza took over the turntables and knob tweaking the Factory exploded with life. Think of a Thievery Corporation show as you would a variety show or ultra hip-hop extravaganza. The beast was a two and a half hour throw-down featuring thirteen different performers and a massive LED lighting backdrop. As one group of performers left the stage, another onslaught of musicians emerged fresh, ready to spit fire and woo us with their own personal multi-lingual flavors. They wove together a smooth lounge aesthetic with dub reggae, bossa nova beats, sitar dreams and percussion that tossed the crowd in an ocean of waving arms and bodies. The music leapt from country to continent; Brazilian, African, Indian, and Jamaican grooves echoed around the Factory as Thievery Corporation brought a global festivity to the stage with laid-back style.
The first set clocked in at around 90 minutes and was filled with Thievery Corporation's all-stars. The set was dominated by a triple threat of chanteuses working our large mass like they were performing at an intimate cabaret. Sista Pat guided us through a sultry "Lebanese Blond," made popular by the late Thievery Corporation collaborator Pam Bricker. Sista Pat's long, natty dreads and colors of Jamaica moved with her body. She would work her hands into a Hindi charm one moment only to curl out her tongue like a New Zealand Maori warrior bringing fear to an enemy. Rob Myers, long-time guitarist and sitar player for Thievery Corporation, wove his Persian accented sitar notes in and out of Pat's curled tongue and forked fingers. He played cross-legged set-up on a tuft of a seat. The exotic sounds and instrument provided both aural and visual stimulation as many allowed themselves to go limp or shut their eyes.
|Thievery Corporation :: 02.28 :: Philly|
Following Sista Pat's performance, Karina Zeviani, the Brazilian songstress, emerged. Her black and white striped dress moved with her bouncing spirit. She launched us into a "Exilio Exile" with a sound that was a bit of bossa nova cuddling up next to the punch of Massive Attack. Zeviani produced the most spirited female moments of the evening. This had more to do with her ability to connect playfully with the audience and less about her actual singing abilities. With its 14-year track record, Thievery Corporation delivered a convincing seminar in groove that had everything to do with the variety brought on from characters like Zeviani.
Iranian-American lounge queen LouLou just poured on the sensuality while adding serious flares of style. She performed a graceful version of her Persian-Lounge song "Shadows of Ourselves" that just clung to the building's atmosphere like drifting smoke from a smoldering flame. As she performed, Ashish "Hash" Vyas whirled around the stage, pounding out the bass and dancing like a wild rubbery man. His deep four-string was appropriate for the rhythm-heavy sound, and his weighty handed blasts helped move the party all evening. During "Sweet Tides," Vyas simultaneously showed off his skills as LouLou awed the crowd. I just never got tired of her velvety voice as she sung songs in French, Persian/Farsi and English.
After the first set we could have called it a night, happy with what we had seen, but it was far from over. Thievery's heart, Garza and Hilton, took the stage again, silhouetted behind their electronic consoles, drenched in light cast from giant LED lighting rigs. They spun us into the encore, another hour barrage with the men showing true musical prowess. From the opening "Sound The Alarm" chants sung in Jamaican dancehall style, the band laid down a foundation of all-encompassing bass and powerful beats. Roots, as well as MCs Sleepy Wonder and Notch from the DC reggae collective Born Jamaicans punched us into the Radio Retaliation mode again with a feisty version of "Vampires."
|Thievery Corporation :: 02.28 :: Philly|
Frank Orrall blazed brilliantly on the percussion during "38:45" and "Warning Shots" as the strobe lights blew off the MCs, who amped the crowd beyond normal limits. Then, a version of the Outernational Sounds' "Richest Man in Babylon" stole the evening. Garza jumped down from the turntables to strap on a guitar. He strummed away between MC Sleepy Wonder and Sista Pat as they harmonized out the sweet, rootsy melody that lulled our thoughts to warmer nights.
While the biggest surprises of the evening came in the relentless energy of the crowd, Thievery Corporation didn't leave much room for ad-libbing. Expecting heavy remixes on the fly from this pan-cultural DJ duo while juggling multiple lead singers could be a tad unfair. Watching Thievery Corporation is like watching a painter. They have many different brushes and materials to use, but the interesting part is in how they choose to place them on the canvas. There are so many options - singers, percussionists, rappers, horn players, etc. - that can be used to create one larger picture. No matter how Thievery Corporation paints the picture, they provoke a potent mix of groove and global-music influences that create something bigger than just a slick lounge party.
Thievery Corporation tour dates available here.
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