Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Much like Moby at First Avenue a few weeks ago, The Quest turned out to be a nearly ideal place to hear one of my favorite groups, Thievery Corporation.

Neither Quest’s Web site nor the ticket mentioned an opening act, so I was a bit surprised when Isabella Antena was introduced and took the stage.

Antena’s music is best described as Bossa Nova meets Euro-Pop and relies almost entirely on her vocals to drive the performance. With minimal instrumentation, just Antena on guitar and vocals and a “backup musician” named Excel (Axel? Accel? I couldn’t quite understand her name), it reminded me quite a bit of Stereolab. The sing-songishness of Antena’s voice could easily be mistaken for that of Laetitia Sadier or Astrud Gilberto.

Excel’s main purpose seemed to be controlling (really just starting and stopping) the playback that handled percussion and backing instrumentation, using a hand-held video camera to film the audience and Antena, and flailing about in some kind of odd histrionics. I suspect there was a bit of a Linda McCartney thing happening—the few times excel played keyboard or a set of shakers, it was impossible to find her in the mix by the time it hit the loudspeakers.

In spite of Excel’s antics, I enjoyed Antena’s set. It was good enough that I’ll pick up her latest CD and give it a try.

Once the crew had cleared Antena’s equipment off the stage, I was stuck by how much gear still remained.

When you get down to it, the brains behind Thievery Corporation are just two guys, producers Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. They create mid-tempo dance music that falls between trip-hop and acid jazz with an international flair. I figured it would be just the two guys behind keyboard gear and DJ coffins playing music while the crowd danced along with a coordinated light show. What we got was the Garza and Hilton—plus a bassist, a guitar/sitar player, two percussionists, trumpet, saxophone and a rotating stable of vocalists. What we got was nothing short of stunning.

During the 100+ minute set they did a handful of songs from their latest album The Cosmic Game including “The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter” and “The Time We Lost Our Way” plus a veritable best-of from their previous releases. Favorites include “Liberation Front,” “The State of the Union,” “All That We Perceive,” and the title track from The Richest Man In Babylon as well as “Lebanese Blonde” and “Samba Tranquille” from The Mirror Conspiracy.

All in all it was a great show and I hope to see them again.