A Cool Party, Until That One Guy Started Yelling About the IMF: Thievery Corporation at the 9:30

Another January, another Thievery Corporation residency at the 9:30 Club. Don’t forget:

1) Earplugs; and

2) Drugs (optional).

At the home opener of a five-night stand, DC’s veteran purveyors of instant, worldly, ambience for your dinner party or client presentation delivered the fair-trade goods for 135 minutes, at fidelity-obliterating, sternum-rattling volume. It’d be tempting to say the often listless affair was a comme ci, comme ca concert but a good dance party, if not for the inconvenient truth that an only slightly larger portion of the crowd was shaking it than on a typical 9:30-hosted night of indie rock. That couldn’t have been great for the video shoot taking place.

Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the Corporation’s two-man board of directors, didn’t show much command of pace, but they went all-out on the party decorations. Theirs had to be most impressive video presentations ever to pimp the 9:30’s usually unadorned stage, four large screens beaming brilliantly-shot and edited footage of riots and Capoeira dancers, or TC’s own excellent videos for cuts like “.38.45 (A Thievery Number),” or else what looked like animated extrapolations of Joan Miro paintings all night. Something cool: A painter occupied the stage-right VIP balcony, easel-to-crowd, completing two vibrant abstractions from scratch during the concert.

Neither the flashy visuals nor their late foray into anti-globalization agitprop on 2008’s Radio Retaliation album helped Thievery shrug off their rep for blandly sophisticated soundtrack music. With a few exceptions, their albums have always felt designed to complement something else: a short film, a workout, a dalliance with recreational pharmaceuticals and/or an intimate encounter with a member of the opposite/same sex, whatever. In practice, most of us experience nearly all music in this way, of course — while multitasking — but Thievery Corporation’s stuff actually feels incomplete in the absence of additional stimuli. Which we got.

And the music? Er, what exactly would you like to know? It was a hypnotically appealing but often indistinct midtempo gravy of dub-reggae, with six additional instrumentalists augmenting the Hilton-Garza nerve center. No fewer than eight vocalists took turns singing or emceeing in an embassy row of tongues, and if you covered your ears you could discern their voices in what was otherwise a smothering fog of low end.

Save for when they came out to introduce the band during the encore, Garza and Hilton spent the evening in silence behind their elevated deck of keyboards and consoles, flanked by two percussionists. With the other musicians arrayed in front of them and dressed to sweat, it was hard not to imagine the sharp-suited duo as possibly sinister puppeteers, a jarring contrast with the populist lyrics of tracks like “Vampires.”

A shorter version of this review appears today on Click Track.

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