Thievery Corporation Throws Down a Global Gauntlet at the LA Greek
Thievery Corporation's ultra-eclectic mix of rock, reggae, acid jazz, dub, electronic, trip-hop, bossa nova and Indian music with frequently socio-political lyrics defies categorization and makes them one of the most original and subversive acts in music history.
Thievery Corporation + Cypress HillCity: Los Angeles
Venue: LA Greek Theater
It was a beautiful early autumn evening with cool air wafting through Griffith Park as if there weren’t a stifling global climate change induced, record-setting heat wave just around the bend. Music fans were in for an early Rocktober treat with Thievery Corporation. The band’s ultra-eclectic mix of rock, reggae, acid jazz, dub, electronic, trip-hop, bossa nova and Indian sounds with frequently socio-political lyrics defies categorization and makes them one of the most original and subversive acts in music history.
It’s hard to imagine putting together such a project from scratch, with a pair of DJs bringing in a full backing band and a team of singers to field such an organic lineup in the electronica field. But this is exactly what co-founders Rob Garza and Eric Hilton did. Thievery Corporation can’t be classified merely as electronic music, however. The band also rocks with a powerful mojo and the various singers create a kaleidoscope of sonic flavors that can’t be pigeonholed. Add in a slew of songs with radical messages critical of establishment politics and global economic cronyism and what results is one of the boldest musical acts in the business.
The musical circus from the nation’s capital teamed up with Cypress Hill to help fill the venue and the crowd received a full set from the local hip-hoppers from Southern California’s South Gate area. B-Real and company entertained with a pulsing hour of hip-hop jams focused on general partying, particular with tequila and cannabis. “We came to get you high,” sang B-Real early on as he lit a large spliff at the front of the stage. It may not be as daring as it was in the ‘90s, but the action seemed just as popular with the counterculture leaning crowd. The man named the “2014 High Times Stoner of the Year” has worked for years to help bring cannabis to mainstream acceptance and that was evident with the smell of the sweet leaf in the air.
The opening set was fun but the vibe at the Greek moved to a deeper level when the Thievery Corporation hit the stage with “Web of Deception". The song features the vocals of Natalia Clavier, who looks like a European model but sings of seeing through the deceit of modern society. The enchanting Loulou Ghelichkhani was up next for “Take My Soul", a sultry yet groovy ambient tune that further set the stage for a magical evening. A great band could be be built just around the two female singers, but the Thievery Corporation up the ante with a succession of male vocalists dabbling in one genre after another genre.
“Overstand” and “Radio Retaliation” featured reggae dub vibes before “Liberation Front” boosted the tempo with a deeper groove led by bassist Ashish Vyas, a dynamo of energy all night as he often strutted around the stage like a man possessed. The band’s new horn section starred here as well, later announced as a new local addition from Los Angeles. “Illumination” kept things grooving with an instrumental jam that highlighted the band’s ace percussion section, as well as guitarist Rob Meyers moving to a couch to play sitar on a hot jam that truly lit up the night.
Loulou returned on “Firelight” with the band shifting gears for a sublime jazzy sound highlighting the vocalist’s torchy charisma. Natalia followed with a similar vibe on “Depth of My Soul", conjuring a vibe that seemed to come from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The sound of a global band moving between so many different genres was downright intoxicating since it’s so rare. Those who wanted more LouLou were rewarded when she came right back and called Garza down from his DJ stand to back her on guitar for “Sweet Tides” from 2010’s standout It Takes a Thief LP. It was one of the show’s peak moments as the alluring siren delivered a mesmerizing vocal over an enchanting sonic landscape of ambient psychedelia. It seemed as if the Greek Theater had floated through time and space to a more harmonious place and the crowd responded with a wave of praise at the end.
The show took a radical turn with “33rd Degree” as the ensemble slipped a song about a shadowy secret society’s control of global policy into an island dub jam with a message as deep as its ambient groove: “I'm the president of the shadow government / The grand governor of the federal reserve / Public enemy of the society / The one you cannot see / The 33 degree." It flowed perfectly into “All That We Perceive", where the horns joined in on a mid-tempo showcase for Natalie’s smooth insights on the multi-dimensional nature of reality. This in turn led into a crowd-pleasing dub arrangement of the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain". The sonic theme kept flowing beautifully into “Holographic Universe", with a metaphysically enlightening vibe over a more uptempo groove as the dance party rolled on.
There could be no mistake about the message of “Vampires", a scintillating Afrobeat tune which was dedicated to “the bloodsuckers in the IMF [International Monetary Fund]". The injustice of the global economic system has long been a theme for the Thievery Corporation and this song throws down the gauntlet: “Don't believe politicians and thieves / They want our people on their bended knees / Pirates and robbers, liars and thieves / You come like the wolf but dressed like the sheep.” The energy continued to flow with “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter” as percussionist Frank Orrall took the mic on a track that was sung by the Talking Heads’ David Byrne on 2005’s The Cosmic Game.
Throughout the night, Thievery Corporation showed masterful skill at putting together a setlist that covered many genres, yet flowed with segments and song combos that complimented one another. The show steamed toward a rousing finish with the anthemic “Unified Tribes", the band’s contribution to the 2012 anthology Occupy This Album. Indie rapper Mr. Lif reprised his vocal on the inspiring call for activism and spiritual revolution to save the planet, making it feel like like such a triumph is indeed within humanity’s collective grasp. A segue into the pulsing “Warning Shots” emphasized the message further with another trip-hop call to action. The way the crowd got down to both songs demonstrated that LA music fans are more than open to groovy jams with a strong political message against the corrupt status quo.
Guitarist Rob Meyers returned to the sitar during the encore sequence for the band’s quintessential “Lebanese Blonde", a dazzling Middle Eastern groove showcase for Natalie to do her thing one more time. The instrumental “Forgotten People” pushed the sitar-led global beat party higher as the Greek’s collective consciousness synched into one harmonious groove. The band wasn’t done getting radical though, throwing down “The Richest Man in Babylon” to provide another enlightening critique of the modern age, yet framed in a groovy mid-tempo dub jam. “Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)” put a triumphant final stamp on the evening, with the band playing out over an uplifting ambient groove to manifest ultimate victory for power of the people over the economic elite that seek to keep the world divided with strife.
Thievery Corporation’s lyrics are probably too radical to ever go mainstream, but the band provides a noble and needed service in providing a wide-ranging and danceable soundtrack for music fans who believe that art can and should influence rebellion against modern society’s corrupt paradigm.