Thievery Corporation, Spirit, NYC- 5/20
The Thievery Corporation, divided by two, equals a pair of DJs: Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. Conceived on Washington, DC's club circuit, but truly born in the confines of an ultra-hip recording studio, the stage has always been somewhat foreign terrain for Garza and Hilton. Over the years, the duo has experimented with a variety of translation methods, ultimately resulting in two unique performance personas—-one as a stripped down DJ act and another as the core of a full livetronica band.
Located on the edge of New York’s increasingly trendy Chelsea district, Spirit occupies the former residency of Twilo, a dance venue once associated with the 80s and 90s club scene. And, on this spring evening, Thievery Corporation itself straddled the line between concert and corporate rave, spinning The Cosmic Game tracks while an audience filled of wide-eyed club kids focused their attention on this pair of unlikely rock stars. Backed by an assortment of auxiliary musicians, including a pair of percussionists, a horn section and a rotating selection of vocalists, Garza and Hilton served as auxiliary players, filling in the electronic gaps between their bands layered experiments. Lit by a wall-size scrim, the duo remained in the shadows, mixing their tracks like a pair of mad scientists, while their band laid a lush, eastern backdrop. Yet, like the best performers, this longtime duo injected a dose of energy into its every move, fashioning a quick knob change into a heroic stroke on an electric guitar.
With its ornament lighting and fishbowl-like balcony views, the Spirit boasts several viewing platforms, offering any number of concert experiences. In fact, at times Spirit’s upper lounge looked strangely reminiscent of the upper crust restaurant mocked in Garden State, the film featuring Thievery Corporation’s single "Lebanese Blonde." Yet, as the pre-show flyer clearly reminded attendees, Thievery Corporation essentially Djed a bar party, an event remembered more for its atmosphere than its individual compositions.
Unlike other electronic acts, Thievery Corporation has carved out a unique persona, built on Garza and Hilton’s long standing fascination with Middle Eastern and Brazilian sounds. Blending in sitar samples and elegant percussion, Thievery Corporation is an organic outfit at heart, a quality which has attracted fans of the burgeoning livetronica’ community in recent months. And, like bands such as Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the New Deal, Thievery Corporation accents its repetitive, electronic beats with strikingly out of place instruments, blurring the line between acid-jazz and downtempo club music. Oddly, enough Thievery Corporation has stumbled upon many of the same sounds performed by its jamband counterparts, only from an opposite angle.
For years, Thievery Corporation has spiced up its electronic compositions with ghostly, female vocals —- in effect, creating an invisible lead vocalist. A hook to draw listeners into its acid-jazz electronica, Thievery Corporation’s vocal samples have pushed the duo further into the world of modern indie-rock. And, on The Cosmic Game, Thievery Corporation placed a face behind its vocals, recruiting iconic figures like Perry Ferrell, David Byrne and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. While on the disc new tracks like the Coyne-bolstered "Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)," blur the line between modern psychedelic-rock and electroncia, Thievery Corporation is, at heart, a big band —- albeit a piecemeal one. With a series of live singers rotating behind the microphone, Ganza and Hilton fashioned its project in a variety of styles, ranging from straight hip-hop to Brazilian lounge. For better or worse, each singer brought a unique MC approach which more often than not veered the group away from the organic-computer hybrid that makes Thievery Corporation unique. Perhaps the evening most intriguing offering, during a single-song encore, Ganza exchanged his turntable for an acoustic guitar, further blurring the lines between performer and electronic composer.
Oddly enough, by stripping their show down to its bare essentials, Garza and Hilton are able to explore electronic music’s unlimited scope. With an orchestra of instruments at their fingertips, these DC-bred musicians can shift between styles with an unnatural ease. Yet, in a live setting, the Thievery Corporation’s greatest challenge is translating their carefully composed sound into an energetic, slightly improvised band. Despite their limited instrumentation, which boils down to a pair of turntables, Thievery Corporation loaded its DJ set with enough spectacles to entertain a generation weaned on arena-rock and hip-hop flash. And, with a live band behind in front of them, Thievery Corporation was able to transform its artificial sound into a living band.