Thievery Corporation + Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe @ Mtelus – 17 October 2019

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If you’re too young to remember trip-hop, it was essentially the soundtrack to smoking weed in the second half of the nineties. It made you wanna move, but you were quite content doing it in your chair, no need to get up. It was the marriage of electronica, hip-hop and jazz with whatever other influence the artist felt like throwing in there. Thievery Corporation was born in this movement with the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead leading the way. 

If the music is eclectic, so was the crowd. MTelus was filled with people of all ages and styles. Stoners young and old were mingling with cougars on the prowl and Millenials updating their followers as to where they were. There was a definite aura in the air, a cloud above the crowd. 

Tasked with warming up this motley gathering was Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Denson is a saxophonist whose credits include being a full-time member of Lenny Kravitz’s band to touring with the Rolling Stones. This project delivered some straight-up funk and soul. There were some gospels aspects to it that drove the feeling up a notch. As far as opening acts go, these guys were top notch. 

Officially Thievery Corporation consists of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. But unlike most electronic acts, the duo comes on stage in the background as percussionists and are joined by a full complement of musicians and not a hint of backing tracks. They parade in and out no less than seven vocalists, each with their own distinct flavour. 

First out was Frank Orrall and his gravelly voice to set the tone. He wore an LED crown and a wry mile as he crooned the crowd to get them warmed up.

Loulou Ghelichkhani was next. She has a haunting voice and stage presence, dipping into the more psychedelic aspects of the music. She drew a special connection to the crowd with her fluent French. She even sang the francophone “Voyage Libre” near the end of the main set. 

Reggae vibes were next on the docket with Puma Ptah providing vocal for the title track of the Babylon Falling Tour.  Puma provided traditional reggae vocals in the vein of Peter Tosh. Combined with the ethereal percussions this fusion was one for a Rasta smoke-out. The reggae ambience continued with a female touch when Raquel Jones graced the stage. She knocked what Puma set up straight out of the park. 

For all the energy they brought, Natalia Clavier brought a cool chill to the stage. Her vocals are exotic and ethereal with a tinge of Latin feel. She made the crowd sway with many closing their eyes and waving their hands. These are the vocals that were typical to trip-hop (see Portishead, Massive Attack, Hooverphonic, etc.) It’s a trope because it works. 

If everyone until now got the crowd swaying and dancing in a hot box, the whole evening changed when Mr Lif took the stage. He brought back memories of 80s hip hop and had complete control of the crowd. He jumped around the stage and got the crowd bopping too. A live MC of a talent and energy that are contagious. Not to take away from the rest of the crew, he was by far the highlight of the evening every time he took to the stage.

After his first song had the crowd buzzing, guitarist Rob Myers traded in his axe for a sitar and they broke into the instrumental “Illumination.” This jam was only missing a basket with a dancing snake in the middle of the stage. The marriage of funk and Eastern melodies was a potent tonic and the crowd was buying.  

After an hour of dancing to a world tour of influences, they treated the crowd to a 3 song acoustic set. Not something I was expecting but it hit well. Acoustic in no way meant slowed down, it just had a more earthy tone. 

The encore featured Clavier coming back to provide vocals on the ubiquitous “Lebanese Blonde.” Back to the eastern melodies, this song brings me and probably most of the crowd back to being in a buddy’s basement in 1998, trying to smoke a joint without his parents smelling it. It’s a gem live and if you close your eyes you just might wake up with a gem on your forehead.

An incredible night of high musicianship with so many influences. Honestly, entry should require a passport because you’re taking a musical journey around the world. What is most amazing is that all these styles mesh seamlessly and nothing seems out of place. Every genre is executed with the skill of a musician who concentrates solely on that style. A unique evening that shared joy and diversity through the magic of music. 

Review – Richard Brunette

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