Who Stole Thievery?

No one doesn’t like Thievery Corporation. They’re funky, they’re groovy, they’re just plain cool. They flip basslines to the sitar, they trade the traditional drumset for bongos and wood blocks, and their sexy lounge rhythms could form the soundtrack of a jewel heist movie. They’re on my “top ten favorite bands of all time” list.

It’s a sweet moment when you find out that a group you absolutely love is playing in your town. Especially if it’s Thievery. Even the long wait until showtime is sweet.

They opened the sold out show with Lebanese Blonde, which they pretty much had to do given how many people saw Garden State. Even though it’s their most well-known song, it’s a legitimately great song – that sitar charms you like a snake.

Thievery Corporation doesn’t just play a concert – they put on a real show. For the first fifteen minutes, I was literally agape at the sheer awesomeness of the spectacle: the slinky-scarved Persian dancer; the woman in what looked like a cross between a fairy costume and a French maid outfit; the guy jamming on the sitar; the block player; the bongo guy; the deadpan and afroed horn section; the bass player who danced and slid around in his socks; the DJ on an elevated stage behind them, at the top of the pyramid, lit from behind by a screen panel that dimmed until he looked like a god, illuminated and conducting this enormous orchestra. That was all sweet as hell.

Then they started playing songs off their latest album, Radio Retaliation, and they lost me. This is by far my least favorite of their cds – Mirror Conspiracy is my favorite, with DJ Kicks and Richest Man in Babylon not far behind. Radio Retaliation marks the shift from groovy lo-fi to full on reggae.

Thievery has been dabbling in reggae sounds for a while – some of the songs on the aforementioned wonderful albums explore Rasta sounds and slants, and they work because the voices and beats add layers to the grooves rather than hijacking them.

It’s not bad music – I don’t think Thievery is capable of that. Objectively, it’s decent reggae/dub, complete with laudable anti-war, anti-Bush themes. The guys who performed these songs dressed in white pressed pants and navy blue overcoats. They’ve got dreadlocks and damn, can they move. The problem is that they sounded more like Fela Kuti than Thievery. They sounded almost ordinary.

Regardless of their song choices, Thievery has an amazing energy that vibed really well with the crowd at the House of Blues.

So hey, the Boston House of Blues is open! It moved from Cambridge to Fenway, where Avalon used to be. It’s bigger than Avalon – apparently it can hold about 3,000 people (it didn’t seem like there were that many people, but the third level of the place is reserved, so I have no idea how many people can fit up there. I hear there’s bleacher seating).

I hung out on the second level, where the Aztec and black and white paintings make it feel like a museum. Water costs $4. The bathrooms are big and clean. The sound system thumps and envelops without ever reaching a cringe-inducing volume, and the lighting verges on psychedelic. The floor was so jammed that people had to settle for collectively swaying, but a little dance party up on the balcony wing. An impressive venue, all things considered.

The line up is impressive too. George Clinton played the night after Thievery, and there are dozens of other big names in rock, blues, and alternative music on the calendar. The downside is that HOB is owned by a subsidiary of Clear Channel, which makes me feel like a sellout, but I figure that selling out in the name of experiencing great live music is sometimes necessary and always forgivable. Right?

Thievery put on nothing short of a fantastic show. I just miss the old days when they went to town with a sitar, some horns, and a block of wood, and showed us all what it meant to get down and funky.