Thievery Corporation at the 9:30 Club

DC's own eclectic electronic musicians, Thievery Corporation, perform at the 9:30 Club. Photo: Thievery Corporation

WASHINGTON, January, 31, 2012 —There are very few musical institutions in Washington DC bigger than Thievery Corporation.  The band is deeply rooted within the city and their fingerprints are all over the District. That’s why it was no surprise when  they sold out the 9:30 Club both Thursday and Friday night even though they were the only band on the billing.

Band founders Rob Garza and Eric Hilton met at the 18th Street Lounge – which is owned by Hilton – and decided to start recording music under the pretense of electronica, blending genres like dub and jazz, among others heard throughout the club scene, into a seamless package.  Hilton still owns several establishments across the city, and the group’s often politically charged music has always fit the perception of DC-oriented politics more so than the music associated with any other city. It’s this orientation that leads to fairly intense and energetic live shows by the band.

Unlike most groups of their ilk, a Thievery Corporation live show always feels like a wide ranging collaborative effort. Hilton and Garza are certainly the architects of Thievery Corporation, and their sound is drenched in the influences that brought them together. The expansion of their musical ideology has been aggressive and has widened over the years. But once they hit the stage, their band becomes almost like a variety musical act than a tight set presented by a single, concentrated entity.

A lot of this has to with Hilton’s and Garza’s studied effort never to become the focal point of their live shows. Their attitude falls in line with their status as producers, but it still seems rather odd during a live show. That’s always what Thievery Corporation seems to be about though, with Hilton and Garza hanging around in the shadows, crafting everything behind the scenes like a backdrop while allowing the band’s various singers put their own stamp on each song.

The band’s show as a whole has a strangely eclectic vibe that carries through the entire night.  Thievery Corporation has been so diverse and they’ve brought in so many different vocal personalities to their songs over the years that they clearly are working to achieve the “eclectic” label. That said, this focus has an odd effect on their live show that can be taken as both a positive and a negative. It would be easy to say their show lacks a specific center and heads off in too many directions. But for people familiar with Thievery Corporation, that’s actually one of the more appealing things about this group.

This is why it now makes sense that Thievery Corporation should have been and actually was the only group on the billing for their recent show. Attending a Thievery Corporation show is like observing several different groups rolled into one to the point where at times it actually feels like hanging out in a random club and simply listening to a DJ spin whatever is on his program tonight. Of course, the DJ would have to have a fairly retro taste in music.

While Hilton and Garza have an appreciation of what they view as the club scene, it’s a club scene that generally doesn’t exist any more. Nothing about their show is necessarily fast, and their sound certainly doesn’t have the repetitive thump that characterizes most clubs today. Instead, their recent show clearly celebrated the founding duo’s obvious love of old jazz, R&B, and soul recordings, even as they occasionally worked in an ever-so-vague electronic package.

But that package is what people truly appreciate about Thievery Corporation. To an outsider, the band might feel as if it’s all over the place musically. But in reality, it’s really just two guys who appreciate chilling out at an old familiar club and listening to their favorite, obscure records that countless people have long forgotten. There are more people who relate to that sort of retro feel than one might imagine, and this is why Thievery Corporation could fill the 9:30 Club to capacity for two nights in a row. And if previous history is any indication, it’s likely they could have done so for a few nights more.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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