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Review: Thievery Corporation

October 16, 2017

Thievery Corporation Review @ House of Blues Orlando Saturday, October 14th, 2017



The show on Saturday at House of Blues Orlando was my first chance to see Thievery Corporation live, even though their music has haunted the swankier moments of my existence, especially the times when I visited their numerous bar ventures in their native DC, where I also lived for a number of years. I blearily remember dancing til 2am at Eighteenth Street Lounge, eating at Marvin’s, and applauding each time a new venture of theirs opened up, because they were all so beautiful and chic in a way that is hard to put into words. I have skirted them for decades and so when I heard they were coming to Orlando, I sprang at the chance to do this review.


Known for their smooth blend of bossa nova, pop, and reggae all supported by live instrumentation, Thievery Corporation defined the genre of “Lounge” music since the founding duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton made their debut in 1995. This is more than just a band. This is a multi-cultural, blindingly talented collective with a message.


To open the show, a freshly groomed Zach Deputy crafted songs from loops of beat boxing, acoustic guitar licks, turntable samples, and his MacBook. The infectious beats he creates made for a great lead in for the diversity of sound that is Thievery Corporation. Zach isn’t a one man band, he’s a one man orchestra building each song from scratch to back his big, soulful voice on songs like “Into the Morning” and “Twisty Twisty”.


The crowd started out strong for Zach and stayed that way. People came here to DANCE. Immediately, his funky grooves informed with Calypso and reggae tones got the crowd moving. Zach playfully asks the crowd to cheer for the band, which of course is just him. “If you’re not feeling Zach’s music, you’ve got no soul,” I overheard someone say in the audience. Zach broke out a harmonica and the crowd went wild with dancing. As soon as he departed the stage, the crowd pulsed in anticipation for Thievery Corporation’s arrival.


In darkness the band members of Thievery took their places as black lights dimly lit the stage. Singer Frank Orrall emerged with an elaborate industrial headdress to sing “March of the Hate Machines”. The lights came up as Christopher Smith A.K.A. Puma Ptah took the helm dressed pristinely in white with a black bowler hat saying, “Greetings Orlando family” and sang “True Sons of Zion” off of their latest album, The Temple of I & I. Puma’s voice, as warm and inviting as velvet, reinforced his incredible stage presence. His arms reaching out towards the crowd seemed to embrace us all.


Puma Ptah passed the baton to another singer, Racquel Jones, for “Letter to the Editor” as Ashish “Hash” Vyas, the barefoot bassist, prowled around the stage, threading through and behind the six different singers and performers who fronted the band throughout the night.. Rob Garza stood ensconced behind a DJ set-up that glowed alternating colors and Eric Hilton took up the corner behind Keys and Congas. Raquel stood statuesque in front of them in a long houndstooth skirt split at the side, wrapped black bikini top, and black baseball hat.


Some people think partying is silly, a frivolous waste of time. I think that it’s in our blood. As I marched in place, and moved to the music, I saw the dance and the music for what it really is: a beautiful and necessary celebration of life. The vitality of a people and a culture exercised in space and time. The smiling faces, sweating bodies, and wild whoops all around supported my reasoning. Aside from festivals like Bonnaroo and Hulaween, this was by far one of the friendliest crowds I’ve ever encountered. I made friends with so many people at the show, before, during, and after. The best of humanity goes to shows like this.


It’s not just about dancing and making friends, TC has music with a message. Overlaying the constantly building and condensing beats and melodies, their lyrics on songs like “Overstand” sung by Puma Ptah and “Fight to Survive” performed by Mr. Lif with Natalia Clavier and Puma Ptah backing him reflect the collective’s worldview.  These songs ask us to critically examine the status quo of society, religion, and business on both global and local scales. Through their recordings and performances, Thievery makes it clear that they consider all of humanity one big family and that what we do matters.


 Mr. Lif @ HOB Orlando


Every bit of this show was a carefully crafted journey curated by the brilliant minds of Garza and Hilton. From the seamless exchange of singers, each one perfectly suited to the songs selected for them, to the production value, and the message behind the music, TC has achieved a level of mastery reserved for those who have truly found their calling.  All the whirling individual pieces perfectly set and timed like the trippiest Swiss watch you’ve ever seen. The members of Thievery Corporation find themselves among the ranks of master musicians like the Grateful Dead and Parliament Funkadelic. Both of whom rely heavily on the idea of family, an idea that always extends to include their fans.


During the course of the set, the band tapped into the root essence that is life. This dance, this music, this joy defines what it means to be ALIVE. This is what roots music is about. Not just a revival of an older style, but a continuation of that life force, a force that joins all peoples across cultures. This may be why TC often garners the categorization of “World Music”. Their influences are myriad and include lyrics in at least three different languages, English, Spanish and French. Happily, the crowd joined in on chanting “Hare Krsna” in Sanskrit. The chanting tapped further into the root.


By the time Natalia Clavier and LouLou Ghelichkhani took the stage with Mr. Lif for “Ghetto Matrix”, I had completely lost track of time and space. The performers could have been singing anywhere in the universe, including a UFO hurtling through space, which is of course is exactly what the planet Earth is doing. Guitarist Rob Myers brought out his sitar at different points, for songs like “Facing East” and “Lebanese Blonde” looking like THE Buddha sitting on the stage in front of Rob’s DJ booth. As soon as I saw that I legit thought, “I never want this show to end”.


Over the course of the 3 hour set, the performers drew from twenty years of music with songs like “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter” (great book better song, do yourself a favor and buy both), “Culture of Fear,” and “The Richest Man in Babylon”. Thievery’s latest album, The Temple of I & I, definitely pulls strongly from the reggae tradition with help from the Jamaican born Raquel and Puma Ptah who is from the U.S. Virgin Islands, but this is no passing phase for the group. Take the wayback machine to about 2010 when Rob and Eric opened Patty Boom Booms. Patty’s, though short lived especially compared to other ventures like Eighteenth Street Lounge, served as a bar, dancehall, and Jamaican patty counter. The interest in reggae culture runs deep for the group and they have paid homage to it throughout their tenure.


Thievery Corporation - The Temple of I & I 


To close out the set, however, Natalia sang “Lebanese Blonde,” one of the band’s earliest and most recognizable singles. “Lebanese Blonde” helped define them as a force in music. The whole audience sang along. This, in a nutshell, is why immigrant culture is so important. It’s important not only to keep our borders open, but our minds. Otherwise we would not be able to enjoy the collaborations like these that literally bring people from all over the globe together.


At the end of the night all I could say is, “holy balls, that was fun.” Don’t even have to think about it that was the best indoor show I’ve ever attended. One of those rare religious experiences and “let me make it clear I don’t care for religion”. If god exists, I saw her Saturday night. Just glad to have been there. To all my new friends, see you next time? BET.


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