Live Last Night: Thievery Corporation

Based on its late-'90s assemblages of samba, lounge jazz and soundtrack music, Thievery Corporation is still known as a "downtempo'' act. But the formerly studio-bound duo's music has intensified as its onstage lineup -- and popularity -- has expanded.

Tuesday at the 9:30 Club, on the first of five sold-out nights at the venue, Corporation directors Rob Garza and Eric Hilton supervised a mostly upbeat sound that was as big as Thievery's current incarnation: the two composer-programmers, six musicians and eight singers.

Garza and Hilton used to claim Italian soft-porn scores as a major inspiration, but today's Thievery is foremost a dub-reggae group. Booming bass (both live and programmed) and deep echoes dominated the set, even when the group was also incorporating Latin rhythms, sitar dabblings or snippets of '70s funk hits. Rastafarianism's apocalyptic politics were also prominent in such songs as "Vampires'' and "The Numbers Game,'' both from the recent "Radio Retaliation'' album.

The dub-style sonics emphasized Thievery's major shortcoming: Since the band is stronger on groove than melody, its material tends to be samey. The heavy reverb blurred the differences between the various vocalists, even when they varied the formula by singing in French or Spanish.

Yet the resonant groove accomplished its goal, keeping the crowd moving for more than two hours. And Thievery loosened up agreeably during a half hour of encores, with Garza stepping from behind his gear to play guitar on two songs, including "The Richest Man in Babylon.'' The show ended with "Marching the Hate Machines (into the Sun),'' an art-rock hymn. It was the evening's most downtempo selection, but it sure wasn't lounge music.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  January 28, 2009; 10:44 AM ET Live Last Night
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