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Taken from The Portland Press Herald (Dec 13, 2016)

Concert review: Thievery Corporation takes audience on a midtempo high

The Monday night show drew heavily from the 2008 album "Radio Retaliation."

by Robert Ker

Thievery Corporation at the State Theatre on Monday.
Photo by Robert Ker

Thievery Corporation rose to prominence in the mid-1990s.

Riding an early endorsement from Austrian duo Kruder & Dorfmeister, the group entered the mainstream at the same time downtempo music – dance music mellowed out considerably and often blended with jazz or world-music influences – transformed from a relatively niche subgenre to a cottage industry capable of spawning mammoth sales for Moby’s “Play” and an endless stream of successful CD compilations, such as the “Hotel Costes” series.

Thievery Corporation signed to esteemed record label 4AD and became a brand.

If you shopped in record stores in the early 2000s, you likely recall seeing the ubiquitous bull’s-eye design on the cover of the group’s 2002 album “The Richest Man in Babylon.”

In the years since, dance music – generally of a more brash, aggressive strain – reached incredible heights of popularity in America.

Thievery Corporation is still doing its thing and, on tour to commemorate their 20th anniversary, drew a sizable crowd in the relatively remote outpost (in the dance-music world) of Portland.

Those expecting to see a couple of DJs on laptops and various other equipment may have been surprised. The group has long expanded beyond the duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton into a global collective, and its stage setup involved two drummers, a bassist, a horn section, multiple singers and more. The show opened with “Richest Man” track “Facing East,” a song that features Indian melodies set to hip-hop beats and here had Rob Myers playing a sitar while sitting cross-legged atop a chaise longue – the first passport stamp in a set that took listeners on a tour through music around the world.

The audience, which leaned a bit in the direction of the incense and “Coexist” bumper sticker crowd, happily went along. Reggae will always find an audience in Portland, and Thievery Corporation indulges deeply in reggae, hip-hop, Middle Eastern music and its beloved Brazilian rhythms (articulated nicely on the “Sol Topado”), all played at a danceable midtempo, with little in the way of speeding up or slowing down.

The band knows its audience well, performing a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain,” foregrounding the bounce of the rhythm that transformed it from a reggae-influenced song to a full-on reggae song.

Perhaps due to the election of Donald Trump – Thievery Corporation is based in Washington, D.C., and has always infused its music with liberal ideology – the group leaned heavily on material from 2008’s “Radio Retaliation,” which is arguably its most-political album and perhaps the most dub-influenced as well. “Blasting Through the City,” for example, contains the lyrics “Open up your eyes, don’t be blinded by the light / All things must change, it’s always been the same / Don’t disguise because the system is devised to divide us.”

Such songs, with lyrical content that is hopeful in the face of systemic adversity, were reflected by the music itself, which was ebullient and always seemed to be arcing upward, toward the sky. The audience’s spirits followed the music in that direction, too.


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