Almost every live music fan I know has one or two venues that hold some sort of special importance to them, a place where an unforgettable show was witnessed or so many shows have been attended that the place becomes familiar. For myself, Merriweather Post is one of these venues. This small wooded pavilion outside of DC was my home for summer concerts throughout high school and college. I saw Phish there every year from ’98 – ’00 catching some really amazing shows, including a September show on Trey’s birthday that was incredible. Last Saturday I got to return to the venue of my youth and catch two of my favorite acts of today, Thievery Corporation and TV on the Radio.
Thievery Corp. is currently on their Outernational Tour, an eight-night, six-city mini-festival featuring a number of openers and a few big name supporting acts. The DC stop of the tour was a homecoming not only for myself but also Thievery Corporation; the Nation’s capital is where Eric Hilton and Rob Garza were raised and first came together to begin their musical journey. In the live setting, over a dozen musicians take the stage to recreate the multicultural sound Hilton and Garza have perfected over a decade. All together, they really played to the hometown crowd, and as usual did very little to disappoint an already anticipated night.
Personally, I could not have been more amped for the headlining opener, TV on the Radio, because I have yet to see them outside of a large festival setting, and I have been really engrossed in their music since Return to Cookie Mountain came out in 2006. The energy and passion this group puts forth on stage replicates the feeling I encounter in their music, an art that takes a band from just tight and skillful in the live setting to somewhat transcendent. I get to see these guys again at the Monolith Festival in September and I simply cannot wait.
Walking into the pavilion brought back a rush of memories from concerts past, and it seemed like the place had not changed a lick. A lot of these type of venues that hold sentimental significance to music fans are being tagged by corporations and transformed into cash machines, not places where art is made. Homdel, Great Woods and Deer Creek are just a few that come to mind. Merriweather has resisted this push, thankfully, and the venue is unpretentious and all about the music. The Frank Gehry-designed structure with incredible sound fits in perfectly with the wooded setting, and the atmosphere of the venue only added to the great night of music.
My friends and I got into the venue just as Ladytron was finishing their set; a late start and too much time in the lot led us to miss three of the first four openers. It’s not the first time I spent an hour or two sipping beers in that lot, so I chalked it up to habit. The venue was only about half full at the peak of the night but a storm forced everyone under the pavilion which increased the intimacy of the shows. About thirty or so minutes after Ladytron exited the stage TVOTR ushered out and immediately ripped into a rocking number that I couldn’t put my finger on; it wasn’t until the third song that I recognized a tune so I hope they’re working through new material. “I Was a Lover” hit hard and soulful with Tunde Adebimpe voice cutting through the humid summer air. The live drums gave the tune a bit more groove than the analog set does on the LP. After this track, the band got into the meat of their catalog balancing the rock, soul, and electronica that make up their sound flawlessly.
Hitting on songs from both LPs, a few highlights for me was the drone filled “Staring at the Sun” and “Providence.” The latter of the two really shows off Adebimpe and guitarist Kyp Malone’s odd and sometimes eerie harmonies. Together with David Sitek truly innovative compositions, TVOTR is a band totally on its own when it comes to originality. The crowd reached its energetic peak during “Wolf Like Me,” as did Mother Nature, unleashing a pretty violent thunderstorm right in the middle of the tune. It must have been quite unreal to look out from the band’s perspective and see the torrential rains and flashes of lightning while ripping through their most driving song. The band played a really strong set and showcased their live talents, which only pushes this band further up in my book. The crowd was antsy and full energy when the Brooklyn quintet left the stage, something Thievery Corporation must have appreciated when they finally greeted the crowd.
Hilton and Garza, the brains behind Thievery Corporation, walked out on stage first and started the night off the same as they would start every song, laying the landscape to the flowing, bass driven downtempo tracks that would populate the rest of the night. The first track, “Facing East,” featured a belly dancer (seen above) who graced the stage again later in the set. Thievery features four musicians, not including Garza and Hilton, who remained on stage throughout but a number of artists rotated through to sing on specific tracks, including two guest appearances by Seu Jorge. The loose collective of artist are as international as Thievery’s music and that couldn’t have been more evident when at least four different countries were represented during almost every song.
Thievery moves gracefully through many different genres and did so last Saturday night. Occasionally the music can blend but HIlton and Garza did a really good job of parsing in heavier raggae/dub based songs that break up the set where otherwise it may have felt a little blurred. Sleepy Wonder and company, the reggae artists who lend a hand, bring the energy to another level and during “Warning Shots,” a few songs into the encore, the energy reached a definite peak. The hour and a half set featured Indian, bossa nova, and dub laced over the unmistakable production of the two originators of Thievery’s sound. Once again the group lived up to their tag as a incredible live show. It was amazing to see the group in their home setting again and the crowd certainly got what it came for.