Thievery Corporation in Chicago (2009)

Friday, February 20 at The Aragon Ballroom, Thievery Corporation, touring behind their latest album, Radio Retaliation, offered a mix of dub, Indian, acid-jazz and bossa nova with a full retinue of backup help. Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the core of the group, were accompanied by a two-piece horn section, sitar/guitarist, conga player, tabla/percussionist, bassist, three MCs (Archie, Arthur Steele and Jamaica’s Sleepy Wonder) and four vocalists (Guyana’s Pat Wharton, Iran’s Loulou Ghelichkhani, Brazil’s Karina Zeviani and Argentina’s Natalia Clavier.

Garza and Hilton opened the show by themselves, performing “Sound The Alarm” before towering video screens showing only a pair of piercing eyes. The remaining members of the band joined the duo for the instrumental jam “The Forgotten People.”

“Lebanese Blonde”, a song featured on the Garden State soundtrack that was the group’s first hit, featured Wharton on vocals, but it was Ghelichkhani who had the most mic time. Before nearly every one of her number, she coaxed the crowd to have another drink, even when we were well past our cut-off point.

Clavier, a seductive creature with a velveteen voice and long legs, emerged on stage wearing a green top, scarf and leggings, white tutu and sunglasses. As lights pulsated and the band grooved into high gear, she shouted ‘Let’s go to Brazil,’ ordered up a round of caipirinha (the national drink of Brazil) for the crowd and launched into “All That We Perceive.” Later she teamed up with Zeviani for “El Pueblo Unido,” a sexy, hip-shaker that got my two left feet moving.

Sleepy Wonder, Archie and Steele, clad in a satirical combination of army fatigues and Rastafarian safari-wear, presented the perfect caffeinated punch to politically-charged Thievery songs like “Americmaika,” “Numbers Game” and “State of the Union.” “Liberation Front” was given a unique twist: each MC chanted various pop culture references like ‘Turn this mother out!’ and ‘Release that pressure!”

It always comes down to the music for me, but it doesn’t hurt when a group can put on a production that’s both visually intoxicating and cerebrally satisfying.

photo by Kate Franzman

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