No band better embodies the KCRW aesthetic than Washington, D.C.’s Thievery Corporation. The duo’s hypnotic grooves, chilled-out electronics and globally informed approach have become sonic staples of the influential Los Angeles radio station’s recent playlists and compilation albums. So it was fitting that Thievery Corporation should kick off KCRW’s 2008 World Festival with a headlining performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
The sold-out concert featured a host of international performers who benefited from a shared, decidedly modern, approach to traditional Latin music. This made for smooth transitions and a coherence of content that found its apex in the hour-and-a-half long Thievery Corporation set. DJs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton (The core members of Thievery Corporation) were elevated on a central platform toward the back of the stage as guest vocalists rotated between songs. A steady rhythm section of percussion, bass and sitar locked into each collection of sampled beats and slowly undulating soundscapes.
In a live setting, it becomes instantly apparent why this electro-world hybrid has become so popular with the mainstream public — the music is smooth and easily digestible but with enough foreign sounds to give the impression that listeners are savvy and refined in their openness to obscure compositional forms. The truth is that despite Thievery Corporation’s undeniably eclectic host of influences (guest vocalists ranged from Brazilian bossa nova singer Seu Jorge to Janes Addiction’s Perry Ferrell), the songs all sort of sound the same. A deep-grooving 4/4 beat played behind some slightly weird instrumental riff sums up most of the tunes, which certainly serve the purpose of setting the audience into motion but hardly intrigue on a musical level.
The early portion of the set was most successful as Garza and Hilton drew heavily from Eastern and Latin styles, sounding like a less-mysterious version of Air’s “Moon Safari.” During the latter half of the performance, dub and reggae were emphasized to a much larger extent.
Bebel Gilberto proved a charming antecedent to Thievery Corporation’s sonic bombast, as she coyly blended her breathy vocals with an incredibly tight Brazilian fusion band. Standouts were a rhythmic rumba called “Cacade” and a swooning, bossa nova take on Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”