Thievery Corporation | 06.26.08 | NYC

Words by: Jeremy Pfau

Thievery Corporation :: 06.26.08 :: Central Park Summerstage :: New York, NY

Central Park Summerstage :: New York, NY
Labeling Thievery Corporation‘s music isn’t easy. The two artists who comprise the group’s core, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, have labeled it “Outernational.” It’s reggae with Middle Eastern influences, dance electronica with the rhythmic complexities of West African music and their lyrics are sung in French, Persian, Spanish, Portuguese and English. Perhaps that’s why this DJ duo, performing with Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto, Federico Aubele and a slew of backup musicians, was chosen to play the Benefit Concert for Central Park’s Summerstage, a series of concerts by artists running the gamut of musical genres.

Although Thievery Corporation was the headliner, the night’s time was evenly divided among the four bands that performed, which was a good or bad aspect depending on whether you bought your ticket with the idea of seeing a Thievery Corporation show or just a night of live music. Although the doors opened at 5 p.m. and the music started at six, Thievery Corporation didn’t get onstage until 9 p.m. and played for only one hour. It was an exhilarating hour though, and the other performers were worth seeing. There had been forecasts of rain and thunderstorms but when the music began with Argentina’s Federico Aubele, the sun was shining bright and hot. People were laid out on the ground in front of the stage, shirts and shoes off, while the sounds of Aubele and his gently strumming guitar filled the air. With his band consisting of drums, bass, keys and guitar, Aubele played a short set that was pleasant as ambience while the crowd strolled in.

The next band that played was a local electronic group, Turntables on the Hudson, which brought the first real burst of energy to the evening. A similar setup and sound to Thievery Corporation, although scaled down to a degree, this group was made up of two DJs and two percussionists, one of whom switched between congos and the Middle Eastern string instrument, the oud. This group plays every week at Water Taxi Beach and is worth checking out.

Thievery Corporation
Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto played a lively set. She shied away from her jazzy side and embraced the spirit of Summerstage, playing her liveliest and most danceable material. Her sultry tone and ability to twist and play with the time and rhythm of her vocals evoked the spirit of Flora Purim. “Aganju,” a simple two-chord tune was the highlight of her set, with the atmospheric buildups of her band as well as the incredibly catchy chorus, which had the American audience, with no clue as to what it actually meant, singing the word “Aganju.” She closed as the sun set over Central Park West, and people removed their sunglasses and awaited the arrival of Thievery Corporation.

By the time the headliner got onstage darkness had fallen over Central Park. Their set-up was a bassist, two percussionists (one behind the congas and bongos, the other playing cymbals), a sitar player, several guest vocalists, and at the center, of course, the two DJs. The set was a multimedia extravaganza, with a jumbo-TV behind the band playing visual goodies from psychedelic amoebas to clips of an emaciated Indian man doing yoga, and a belly dancer clad in archaic Arab apparel came on for one song.

The grooves were like a gravitational force sucking in the audience. Everyone in the crowd was dancing as if they were in a club rather than the open air of Central Park. While the music was spectacular, the glitches in the sound system, which periodically crackled and clicked, interfered.

Thievery Corporation
Seu Jorge’s time with Thievery Corporation was brief. He barely sang two songs; one of them only on backup vocals. The performance of his reggae song “Hagua” was remarkable, incorporating the horn section and the backup singers in the chanting of “Hare Krishna” in the chorus. His performance left you wanting more though. Nonetheless, Thievery Corporation had several other singers who were great. Sleepy Wonder, a dub-rapper who was featured on one of the songs was mesmerizing with his machine gun speed lyrics, which seemed to spill out of his mouth like lightning. “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” originally a collaboration between Thievery and David Byrne, was sung by a guest vocalist who mimicked David Byrne’s dance performance in Stop Making Sense, running laps around the stage while the band took solos.

Thievery Corporations’ sound breaks free from the often canned, contrived feeling of a lot of DJ dance music by incorporating live instruments and vocalists into their music, which adds a more visceral, organic aspect. Watching Thievery perform isn’t at all simply watching two DJs behind turntables fiddling with computers and synths.

The strict 10 p.m. curfew of Central Park, as well as the lengthy periods of set-up in between each group, cut down the time of actual music, which clearly irritated many of the concertgoers who had paid $65 dollars for their tickets. With the beautiful weather, relatively cheap food and beer (six dollar cheeseburgers are a bargain for NYC concert venue standards) and hours of diverse world music though, it’s hard to complain.

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