Friday, July 28, 2006

Hollywood Bowl, July 23, 2006

The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was the final date on the west-coast tour. It’s a wonderful venue, though the largest natural amphitheater in the world (seating capacity over 17,000) lacked the intimacy of the other venues on the tour. The heat-wave had begun to subside slightly and it started to cool off as the sun went down. Three bands were on the bill with Os Mutantes first, followed by Thievery Corporation, then the headline act, the Flaming Lips, who went all out while filming the show for a soon-to-be released DVD. Thievery had to craft a shorter set, which Eric mulled over carefully, his DJ instincts being particularly sensitive to the structure of the playlist while his humanity sought to offer band-members their moment in the LA sun, so to speak.

It was still hot and bright and the stands were just filling up when the opening act, Os Mutantes, began to set the energy flowing. Thievery came on stage as the sun (and mercury) were going down. Although an extended entourage of us grabbed the center front box in the second section of boxes – great seats by any standard – I was still farther away from the band than I’d been except in San Fran, where the density of sweaty sweaty bodies created its own sense of intimacy. Perhaps I’d become spoiled from literally rubbing up against the stage, but as a Bowl audience member commented on my San Diego entry, the band was too far away, so I didn’t feel the music in my chest as I did at the other gigs. The venue’s sound-engineers may have cut back on the opening acts’ volume in order to let the headliner make a more powerful sonic presence, though others there may disagree. I’ve certainly experienced that before at other shows.

There were a lot of Thievery fans in the audience and certainly more after the show than before. The band performed exceptionally well and with multiple percussionists, six vocalists, and a horn section, they belted out plenty of sound to energize the Bowl. Night fell, bringing with it a more conducive atmosphere and Frank had just begun to let loose on “Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” when a procession of purple-sparkled, but otherwise bare-chested women (part of the Flaming Lips crew) sashayed through the crowd tossing glow-sticks to everyone’s delight. So equipped, the audience began making its own little light shows and our group took turns waving a cup filled with a torch of them. As Thievery broke into its most highly-charged, uptempo tunes, like “Assault on Bablyon,” the crowd really came alive and even the VIPs in the first section of boxes were compelled to sway their arms overhead to the music. Looking back over the audience, I could see that nearly everyone else was up on the feet, dancing, and swaying.

Reading over some comments posted online, it seems that people’s experiences of the show really varied. According to dieselgrrrrl, who has posted excellent pix of TC and FLips on Flickr, the show was “Hot, hot, hot!! Thievery ROCKED it way harder than The Lips did, thanks to Wayne Coyne's weak vocals. The Lips' theatrics (bouncing white balloons, santa clauses and oompa loompas and mermaids on stage, yellow confetti) , save for the beats, were basically the show.” Now I agree that Thievery rocked, but from where I was during the show the Lips rocked too and whipped the audience into a frenzy. That’s not surprising, since they were the headliners with ostensibly more fans in the audience. Wayne performed vocals with remarkable poetry and passion and the spectacular stage antics enhanced the overall experience, especially the macro-projection of Wayne’s face and the little puppet during “Do You Realize?” and “Yoshimi.” Our little box became delightfully packed with a growing number of our entourage (the more the merrier!) and the energy seemed to build and build with everyone dancing and throwing glow sticks and singing along. The Corporation are obviously huge Lips fans (Wayne collaborated with Rob and Eric on “Marching the Hate Machine (into the Sun)” on Thievery Corporation’s album, Cosmic Game). Rob and I agreed that the Flaming Lips put on most amazing show we’d ever seen (how does that continue to happen to me?) and he enthusiastically remarked, “it made me feel like a kid at my own birthday party” – which perfectly sums up the free-flowing intensity, richness, and joyfulness of the experience.

From dieslgrrrrl’s pix, it’s clear she was quite far from the stage. What’s interesting to me is that up front, the power of Thievery was not nearly as potent as I experienced it at the smaller venues and not as compelling as the Lips, but for at least some members of the audience towards the back of the Bowl, Thievery came across as more powerful than the Lips. I don’t know if there’s a moral to be drawn from this story, but dieslgrrrrl, if you loved Thievery at the Bowl, you would have been utterly blown away in Portland and San Diego!

Thanks to my hosts in LA, Sherri and Alex Kopelowicz. Yes, eventually, I'll add more pix and vids!!!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

San Diego July 21-22, 4th and B

Two nights in San Diego offered the Corporation an opportunity to unpack its bags and rest a bit after playing three nights in three different cities with no tour bus to rest in and defuse while traveling between venues. The crew, which had which yet to sleep, heroically drove down with the equipment from San Fran while the band flew, arriving in southern California during a heat-wave, which ultimately took the lives of over 140 people in the state. Some family and friends of the band joined the entourage and added to the merriment during the final leg of the west-coast tour.

The venue, 4th and B, is a cool club, similar in lay-out to Roseland, with a large open floor section, with a bar on one side and seating in the balcony. It holds about 1000 and was sold-out both sulty nights. The show started late the first night as the venue stuffed more people into its steamy interior. The club has a powerful sound-system and if, like me, you were upfront by the stage (under which is located a bank of bass speakers) you felt your heart and other organs vibrating in your chest-cavity from the force. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the A/C, which did not function. But with such a cool band and such a cool audience, who needs it?

My comments will focus on the July 22 show, which in my opinion was the better of the two. There is passageway between the stage and the audience that allows photographers to move around and get different angles. I borrowed sitarist/guitarist Rob Myer's pro digital video-camera to record the show better than my little camera permits and thrust myself front and center. I was joined by, among others, New York-based fashion production designer Melissa D'Attilio and Las Vegas-based photographer Lisa Johnson, whose images of celebrity guitars were featured in Dish Magazine. After Rob's batteries died, I went back to my little Lumix FX-9 and shot some more stills and video.

The band was energized and the crowd was equally hyped up. Everyone was dancing throughout the whole show. Eric and Rob G kicked things off, as usual, with Outernationalist, followed by tantalizing performances of Le Monde and Omid by Lou Lou, which seduced the audience, some of whom stretched out their arms attempting to make physical contact. The first explosion came when bassist Hash absolutely tore up Facing East, an instrumental featuring bass and percussion. This set the stage for Alana to taunt the audience with melifluous and soulful renditions of Lebanese Blonde and All That We Perceive. On her first tour with Thievery, she complemented the exotic flavor of chanteuse Lou Lou and the Ornitorrinco-like vocals of Karina, who one fan rightly described as looking like a super-model. Each of the three sirens, with roots in places ranging from Azerbaijan to Brazil to Jamaica, is beautiful in a special way and each contributes a unique sound and style to the Corporation.

Folks in the front row were especially into the show and the audience responded to my turning the camera on them by voguing and blowing kisses. This is quite different than my day-dig, lecturing about art in a classroom! Situated between the band and the audience, I felt like a conduit channeling energy from the stage to the floor and back, and this was extremely energizing. That has been my role on tour in many ways, this blog to wit. When I'm shooting pix or video of the show, I'm also digging the performance, at once capturing, conveying, and contributing to the particular energetic forces of Thievery and more generally, to the raw energy that makes live music exhilerating and transcendent. I groove with the band as part of Corporation and I groove with the audience as part of the crowd. I high-five the front-row as we scream in ecstasy together and I embrace the members of the band and hang-out with them as a member of the touring party. This is a familiar role for me in my past career managing jazz musicians and currently as a an art historian, negotiating meaning between the artist, the artwork, and the audience. I came on tour to learn about Thievery Corporation, hear great music, and have fun with some friends. I ended up learning about myself, becoming one with the music, and feeling adopted as part of the Thievery family.

In addition to the San Diego shows, I had a great time seeing my cousin Wendy and playing Slip n' Slide with her gorgeous grandchildren Allie and Lily and hanging out. I saw some noteworthy art at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) in La Jolla, including a light art installation by James Turrell, some humorous recent work by Richard Pettibone, John Baldessari's conceptual art classic, "Terms Most Useful in Describing Creative Works of Art" (1966-68). The stand-out piece was part of the exhibition, Strange New World: Art and Design from Tijuana/Extraño Nuevo Mundo: Arte y diseño desde Tijuana. In this untitled work by Einer and Jamex De la Torre from 2006, sharp-tooth mouths at the borders of a wall-size mural of the US suck in immigrants to the vaginal core of middle-America, then expunge them in the form of butterlies on crucifixes that fly through the museum and are transformed into fighter jets that have Christ on the Cross hanging beneath them.

More on the afterparties, etc. later... I promise that I'll load up more pix and vids eventually. I shot over 6 GB of material over the week. Blogger's pic uploading system is not being cooperative and the Internet Archive struggles with my large video clips...

Friday, July 21, 2006

San Francisco July 20

The show at the Concourse in San Francisco was historic, if for no other reason than it was the largest US audience to date for a show headlined by Thievery Corporation. The shows in Seattle and Portland had audeinces in the 1500 range. The converted train station that is now the Concourse can hold nearly three times that many people and the band played to over 4000 Thievery heads whose exhuberance was equaled only by the growing purple haze that increasingly filled the hall. For the first time on the tour, there was a warm-up act, Dhamaal, an electronic collective. Strongly influenced by Pakistani folk music, vocalist Riffat Sultana sang with great passion and feeling and the band propelled the music forward with complex rhythmic beats. They were a fantastic precursor the main event and very generous, lovely people. Maneesh the Twister offered Thievery members Dhamaal CDs and T-shirts (very much appreciated by Thievery, which was happy to reciprocate.)

Well, you know how I felt about Portland. The massive Concourse could not hope to enable the sort of intimacy engendered at Roseland. But the San Francisco show was another fantastic performance. For this show, rather than alternately shooting photos and video from backstage and the front-row, I decided to join my friend, Mark Zoidis, and some of his pals around the sound-booth. I wanted to be in the center of the crowd and experience the show and its energy from within: hot, sweaty, bumping, and grinding. The rising and falling tide crafted by Mssrs. Garza and Hilton and the rest of the Corporation took us on a wonderful journey through the many flavors and intensities of Thievery Corporation, with the energy-levels exploring an extraordinary dynamic range. Sometimes the whole audience was dancing frenetically; other times, we were more still but equally enraptured by the music.

The group of people I experienced this with personifies the best of the Bay Area: thirty- and forty-something professionals who use their expertise not to make oodles of money, but to make the world a better place. Mark is a former money manager and consultant specializing in socially conscious investments. His friends Cindy Cohen and Fred von Lohmann are attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF, founded by Grateful Dead lyricist and Harvard Law professor John Perry Barlow), and Ian McCarthy is VP of Marketing for Orb Networks, a company that provides free software enables users to stream media from their PCs. EFF had a lot to celebrate, as they convinced a Federal judge not to dismiss EFF's case against ATT for sharing private client information with the government. See

This is but one segment of the extended Thievery family. I’ve been struck by the tremendous diversity of fans. Although Thievery does not seem to have reached as substantial a black or latino audience as its music surely could appeal to, concert-goers do encompass a broad range of ages and musical tastes, from jam-band followers to Reggae lovers and jazz freaks, with substantial numbers of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with quite a few greying, ultra-hip, old-school cats.

The energy was very different than at Seattle and Portland. The sound-system at the Concourse was far bigger and more powerful and the board more sophisticated. Rob and Eric took advantage of this, especially on the more uptempo reggae-influenced dub tunes, by dropping bombs of exploding bass that literally shook my chest cavity and its contents. I love that! The sounds was big an rich and well-mixed. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the band have been blown away by the concerts. The CD’s may be on their heavy rotation list, but they don’t know what to expect from the live show, especially since Thievery began primarily as two mix-master DJs but also because many songs are recorded by renowned artists, including David Byrne and Perry Farrell, who one would not expect to see on tour with the band. But the current band on tour has fourteen members, nearly all of whom have performed with them on their last tour, and together they create a sound that is REALLY BIG!

Rob Garza – DJ/mixing/keyboards/guitar
Eric Hilton – DJ/mixing
Ashish Vyas (Hash) – bass
John Nelson (L-John) – percussion
Frank Orral – percussion/vocals
Rob Myers – sitar, electric guitar
Dave Finnell – trumpet
Frank Mitchell – tenor sax
Loulou Ghelichkhani – vocals
Alana Davis – vocals
Karina Zeviani – vocals
Sleepy Wonder – vocals
Root – vocals
Z - vocals

That really big sound, combined with the really big audience, filling a really big space with a really phat sound system resulted in a killer show that we’ll all remember.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Portland July 19

This sold-out show at the Roseland Theater rocked. The band rocked. The crowd rocked. More to the point, the chemistry between the two rocked. One concert-goer, who didn't know the band's music well and had never seen them live, described the show as mind-blowing. Another, who claimed to have gone to dozens of jam-band concerts said that this was the best show he'd every seen in his life. The feeling was mutual. Going off-stage after singing lead on a couple songs early in the set, Karina expressed her gratitude to the audience by thanking them and telling them they were great. Though Roseland lacks the charm of the Moore, it's a great place to see Thievery. Because there are no seats on the main floor, it's more conducive to dancing. And a whole lotta dancing went on in the tightly packed hall, rendering the venue thick with sweat-infused air, which intensified the intimacy of the experience. The Rose City is chock full of hipsters who dig Thievery and whose dance moves draw on as broad a cultural mix as the band's music.

Thievery Corporation is anything but a corporation. It's like a big family and I've been fortunate to observe how its diverse members, coming from many different backgrounds, are united in their shared vision of a world that allows individuals to think and act freely, that prioritizes people not profits, that is more loving and respectful. Before each show, the band congregates in the green room backstage for a ritual. Members begin to clap their hands, each articulating a different rhythm that grows together, summoning a sonic presence constructed of the most basic, primal musical spirit. Everyone puts their hands together in the center and they dedicate the show to someone. The show is not about them individually or collectively, it is for someone or some idea, it is for music, for people, for the world.

This is the first time I've been in Portland and it also seems like a big family. It's youthful denizens seem to share Thievery's anti-corporate, post-ideological politics. With a population of approximately 500,000 (2005), it's large enough to have a critical mass of creative artists but small enough so that people know each other, having met at one gathering or another. I made friends and strengthened friendships at the Thievery show and I'm witnessed many others having the same experience. People here seem very mutually supportive, committed to making their polis a healthy and fun place by building and sharing it together, rather than simply taking from it for their individual gain. I can see why quite a few of my friends have gravitated Portland and why the people I met here love it.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Portland is Eric's favorite city in the US. Portland and Thievery are a perfect pair.

To conclude on a more personal note, my visit to Portland was very special because I got to catch up with my old college buddy, Peter Shulman, and to meet his lovely family, who hosted me during my short stay. Peter was my first friend in college. We met during frosh pre-season soccer and went to hear the Clash together, bonding before school even started. We've not seen each other in 19 years (the last time was at a Grateful Dead show at Compton Terrace in Tempe) and it was really rewarding for me to see Peter so fulfilled and happy. I also got to see my grad school friend Jen Urich and meet her friend, Michael, who served with her in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. He now owns the bar, Low Brow, which in my mind is a perfect bar. Warm people, cold beer, seating indoors and outdoors, and utterly no pretense. I'd also like to thank the beautiful and talented LaTisha Strickland for a fascinating conversation about insects, plants, and symbiosis and for driving me back to Peter's. Goodbye Portland, or rather, au revoir - I hope to see you soon.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have a little time on the plane from PDX to OAK to edit some of the pix/videos and get them posted.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Seattle July 18, 2006

No rest for the wicked. The sun is coming up over Seatle, Today, or rather, yesteraday into today, has been a whirlwind of a whirlwind. A postcard morning in Seatlle began with a lovely breakfast at the home of my second-cousin and host, psychologist Lane Gerber, looking over the water and discussing the intersections of art and technology (my passion) in relation to life in general. Then I met briefly with artist and “genius award” winner Susan Robb, who leaves tomorrow to visit Walter De Maria’s renowned earthwork, the “Lightning Fields” in New Mexico. Next, I met up with Eric (as in Hilton, co-founder with Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation [TC]) and his beautiful and charming partner Tien to see the very impressive Maya Linn exhibition, “Systematic Landscapes” at the Henry Art Gallery at University of Washington, then take them on a tour of the spectacular Seattle Public Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas and including installations by artists including George Legrady, Tony Oursler, and Ann Hamilton – note to SPL: fix the Gary Hill video projection!!!

After the soundcheck, I had the privilege to join Eric and Rob for their interview with DJ Derek Mazzone at KEXP 90.3 FM A highligtht of the interview was when Derek asked the master thieves about the secret ito their ongoing success, compared to other groups that began around the same time but have disintegrated. Their answer: 1) they didn’t become drug-addicts; 2) they’re reasonable people and didn’t become egomaniacs; 3) they keep doing what they love, as they did from the beginning when they had no expectations that people would even like their music. I have much respect for these brilliant artists who remain humble and unaffected by international success.

Show time. The Moore Theater, a beautiful old theater downtown, is sold out. At about 8:45, the audience is getting restless and starts chanting for the band to come out. Eric and Rob go to the electronics rack and start hashing out the prelude to Outernationalist, which gets the crowd excited. I’d been warned by locals that the Seattle crowd is so laid back they’ll just sit in their seats for the whole show. But by the third song, everyone was on their feet and people had started filling up the aisles. The show built up energy as a series of female lead vocalists enchanted the audience: first Lou Lou on Le Monde and Onid, then Alana on Lebanese Blonde, back to Lulu on Shadows, then Karina on So Com Voce and Sol Tapado. The show took off on another level when 2, Roots, and Sleepy belted out Liberation; Sleepy kept it pumping with Originality, and 2 and Roots on .38.45. At this point, everyone in the theater is dancing and waving their arms, including the bandmembers backstage. I alternate between dancing and shooting pictures and video backstage and in the audience, which is totally rocking now, so I’m also carried away by the music and no longer keeping track of particulars… other than noting that at some point, a bevy of young women in the audience are being invited to come on the stage and dance with the band and one takes the initiative to light a bowl of herb – the spliff odyssey continues! This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time, a sentiment I think was shared by many. By the end of the show, my 2GB card is full, my shirt is sweaty, and like everyone else at the Moore, I’ve got a huge smile on my face. Please be patient while I sort through and edit the pix/video and post it! I know, you all want details of the after-part but there is honor among thieves… besides, it’s time to pack up and go to Portland and Rob, Eric and Tien are depending on me to drive them there, since the %^&@^%# bus company pulled a fast one (no honor with those thieves – I’ll post their name when I get it) and Dave, the tour manager, has had to scramble to find alternate transport for the band, crew, and equipment…

Thanks to my cousins Lane and Joanne Gerber, who hosted me in Seattle and to the Grateful Bread coffeshop, whose free wireless connection enabled this post.