Thievery Corporation: Zion House Band

Thievery Corporation
The Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
September 16, 2011

Thievery Corporation: Zion House Band

First, let me say that Thievery Corporation has the best name in rock today. It is the perfect embodiment of the zeitgeist that we are currently living through as well as an apt description of the band's music. Thievery is a multicultural, multiracial band that looks and sounds like the future. They could be the house band for Zion, the last outpost of humanity in the Matrix film series.

TC's recordings are fairly laid-back, lounge-lizard amalgamations of pop, rock, jazz, reggae, Brazilian samba and rap with hints of Middle Eastern music or Punjabi Bhangra. However, the music really comes alive on stage and is presented in a much more upbeat, party-now-because-the-machines-are-coming-what-else-you-gonna-do fashion. Needless to say, it was a fun show.

I love the melodic hook of the sitar over the groovy baseline of "Lebanese Blonde," an early highlight on Friday, and the all-out funk of the "the Numbers Game." To me, it really sounds like a celebration of our multicultural world. I also loved TC's inclusion of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (falettinme be mice elf again)." Perhaps a small homage to one of the first bands to tread this path back in the 1960s and 1970s. Both bands and their music are partly a celebration of the oneness of our diversity. So many flavors in this world, why limit yourself?

It is hard to think of Thievery as a duo when there are 10-12 people on stage and a constantly revolving group of singers fronting the band. The band did not play two songs consecutively with the same singer. Nevertheless, T. Corp. albums are the brainchildren of duo Rob Garza and Eric Hilton who enlist a talented crew of musicians when they hit the road. And last night at the Fox was no exception, the band was thoroughly professional and have got some serious chops.

All of that said, there were times where I felt that Thievery was missing something on stage. The band was so much about riding the perfect groove while a stew of funk and dance and jazz floats over the top that the melody can be lost in the mix. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a fun band to see live, you will have a hard time finding better.

Fleet Foxes: Derivations and Algorithms

Fleet Foxes
Greek Theater
Berkeley, CA
September 10, 2011

Fleet Foxes: Derivations and Algorithms

It is hard to be original in almost every creative art, including music. Music has definite rules and regulations. The sounds can't be random collections of noise or silence, a la John Cage, or it's not really music. John Cage's 4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence is more of a philosophical or artistic statement than, say, actual music. When a band takes the stage, each musician can't play in their own key or a different tempo. The discordant sounds just wouldn't make sense and it wouldn't be very pleasant to listen to. Absolute freedom simply results in anarchy. There's a lesson here for today's Tea Party that insists on the evils of all government rules. There must be harmony and structure for music which necessarily limits the amount of creativity. There must be boundaries for there to be meaning. OK, I'm not breaking new ground here but neither are the Fleet Foxes.

Of course, FF does more than pay homage to the harmonizing of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or the Beach Boys (during their psychedelic phase), but not by much. This doesn't necessarily result in an unpleasant evening- especially on a warm Berkeley night at the Greek Theater. It's tough not to enjoy an evening of carousing with friends, pitchers of margaritas and a show at the Greek.

Lead Singer Robin Pecknold does a very good Graham Nash and the band's retro-folky psychedelic performance was solid and professional. They can't help it if they are such big fans of The Byrds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, CSNY, that they sound just like them. Besides, not many modern folk-indie outfits can sing harmonies quite as well as FF. This is music for campfires and late-nights in college dorm rooms.

You could do worse and believe me, I've seen far worse bands- which is a pretty backhanded compliment considering how much I enjoyed the concert. Even the retro designs and patterns on the large screen behind the band were a perfect match for the music and the evening. Of course, FF is all about stripping down the sound before building it back up, voice by voice, not excepting the simple algorithm of the 1995 Windows screensaver projected on the large screen.

The stripped down sound and 1960s sensibility does help to dilute FF's grander philosophical pretensions in the music's lyrics. Many songs comment on mankind's place in the universe and our relations to nature, ourselves and one another- the kinds of things that it's nice to hear young artists contemplating and expressing in their songs. And FF is a band of young artists. In fact, they have only been around 3 years. Hopefully, they will continue to develop and grow and, maybe even push the boundaries of their neo-indie folk harmonies.