Friday night was another beautiful chapter in the love affair between Montreal and Thievery Corporation. Our fair city has been supporting this band from the beginning. As a result, they have loyally come to play their hearts out for us on multiple occasions. Formed in 1995 in Washington, D.C. during the trip-hop era, they began as a duo led by multi-instrumentalists, DJ’s and electronic producers Rob Garza and Eric Hilton.

Like many of their fans, I first discovered them due to Kruder & Dorfmeister’sDJ Kicks” album in 1996 that included Thievery Corpoaration’s single “Shaolin Satellite.” This helped to ignite a worldwide buzz about their debut album “Songs From The Thievery Hi-Fi.” The following year their anthemic single “Lebanese Blonde” led to an explosion of popularity for the band.

Rob Myers sitar player and Ron Garza in keyboards
Bandleader Ron Garza and sitar player Rob Myers

In the twenty-three years since they have eclipsed all their contemporaries with nine more incredible full-length albums and thirty-one singles. A band that defies easy categorization, their music is a blend of Downtempo Electronica, Acid Jazz, Breakbeat, Funk, Reggae, Hip Hop, and Bossa Nova combined with Indian Raga, North African & Middle Eastern music.

Thievery Corporation has songs in English, French, Romanian, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, Farsi and Italian. Their politically conscious lyrics in multiple languages lend serious weight to their music. The band is active for many causes, like human rights, the anti-war movement, anti-globalization and the fight to eliminate world hunger. During the show, they even joked about how some of the band members met for the first time at political protests in front of the White House.

I was excited to see them again as they blew me away from a decade or so ago in the majestic decor of the Rialto Theatre. At MTelus, they came out in a wash of purple light with vocals provided by their percussionist who was wearing a halo of lights. For the second song, the visual projections kicked in, and the tempo increased. Each subsequent song featured a different vocalist on a mission to get the crowd hyped up.

Frank Orrall holding microphone looking pensive
Percussionist Frank Orrall sings the opening song

The first half of the show concentrated primarily on songs from their recent albums. The band was incredibly tight and in the pocket. Rock-solid drumming by Jeff Franca was complemented by percussionist Frank Orrall slapping the congas, bongos, and timbales. Rob Myers alternated between funky wah-wah guitar riffs, to smooth Latin / Brazilian fingerpicking, to putting us in a trance with his sitar. The bassist Hash was stomping and grooving across the stage all night. On the reggae songs, his dub bass tone pummelled us in the chest with seriously heavy sub-bass frequencies.

Hash plays the bass under a blue foggy light.
Bass Player Hash locked in the groove

Throughout the show band leader, Rob Garza switched from guitar to keyboards and drum machines, triggering beats, loops, and playing the organ. Given that they are touring with a band of five musicians and five vocalists, they couldn’t bring their reggae horn section with them. So Rob played their signature horn hooks on his keyboard.

Their vocalists consisted of Mr Lif rapping, Loulou Ghelichkhani singing in French & Farsi, Racquel Jones rapping & singing Dancehall Reggae, Natalia Clavier singing the Bossa Nova & Latino songs and Puma singing Roots Reggae. Their amazing stage presence pumped up the crowd on the funky songs and blissfully soothed us with the sweetness of their exquisite voices on the slow jams.

A close-up photo of Loulou singing from Thievery Corporation.
Loulou sweetly serenades us in French and Farsi

After an hour or so, they took a short break. As promised via a video message on social media before the show, for the encore, Thievery Corporation treated us to something new: an acoustic jam session they had been practicing on their tour bus. They switched to acoustic bass and guitar, classical guitar, bongos, with the drummer playing the cajón.

From this moment on, the show hit its peak and never looked back. Natalia’s vocals had us riveted with “Claridad“, a flamenco-inspired song in Spanish. Loulou then sang “Le Coeur“, a song in French that greatly pleased the hometown crowd.

Thievery Corporation sit down to play a Flamenco inspired song.
Natalia giving us shivers with a Flamenco inspired song in Spanish

After a few acoustic songs, they returned to their normal instruments and proceeded to blow the roof off by playing their hits. On the dancehall reggae song “Roadblock,” vocalist Raquel was incendiary. They delivered an onslaught of their older anthems like the breakbeat ragga mayhem of “Warning Shots” and the exotic Indian / Middle Eastern grooves of “The Forgotten People.”

Thievery Corporation's Racquel sings "Roadblock"
Racquel leading a rousing rendition of “Roadblock”

This led to the moment we had been waiting for all night: their hit single “Lebanese Blond.” With its hypnotic sitar riff, reggae horns, and smoothly sensual Bossa Nova vocals by Natalia, the crowd ecstatically sang the hook. The sing-along continued on the final song of the night, where we were treated to the soulful reggae anthem “The Richest Man in Babylon.” Puma’s sweetly soaring vocals lifted us up while tenderly breaking our hearts…

My only criticism of the show was the sound was a little dodgy in the first half, a little muddy in the mix. Rob Garza’s station of drum machines and keyboards lacked in volume at certain moments, especially on the horn parts. As an older fan, I would have loved to hear more songs from the first four albums. Regardless, it was magical to hear songs I have been DJ’ing for years be masterfully performed live by its creators! Do not miss them the next time Thievery Corporation comes to town!

Our sincere thanks to Evenko for their hard work in putting on this show and for providing us with tickets. And big up to Owen Wiltshire for his amazing photos!

Check out my review about Nick Cave; he wowed us for Pop Montreal.

MTelus was a full-house for the Thievery Corporation show.