After a long few months of Bay Area summers, the Saturday of September 21 felt like the first day of seasonal Fall.
Waking up to rain after a long Berkeley summer was a bit shocking. I’d almost forgotten about weather patterns other than early morning fog; the kind that gives way to crystal clear blue skies and sunshine.
Even if the morning rain signaled the finale of summer, at least busting out the raincoat, boots, and heavy jacket from the back of my closet was a viable option.
That is, if I wasn’t attending a Thievery Corporation and Morcheeba show at the Greek Theater that night in Berkeley. Of course it rains on the day I have a full price ticket to an outdoors show. Perfect.
Reflecting on the lovely timing of the wardrobe exchange, I gave the world a big middle finger, rolled over, and pulled the blanket over my head.
Fortunately, the world had some mercy on my plans that night; the rain stopped, only leaving the air chilly and the surroundings damp. Concert on.
I made it to the Greek just as the first band, Afrolicious, was finishing their set. These guys are a local band who play a weekly show at the Elbo Room. I could hear their groovy, world music-inspired disco dance sound echoing through Berkeley as I made my way up to the venue. Even though I missed seeing their set, that sample and the after-show buzz on the band was positive enough to inspire me to hit up their weekly party in SF sometime soon.
Even though I missed Afrolicious, Morcheeba, a band from the UK, took the stage soon after I got in. They served as the perfect opener; interesting enough to hold attendees’ attention, but just mellow that it let people stretch their legs and get comfortable.
A fusion band, they mixed their rock and roll instruments with synthesizers and turntables. In every song, you could hear the old school “wiki wiki wah” of a record being scratched underneath the thumping; straight forward bass lines and melodic guitar licks gave the impression of floating underwater.
A highlight for me came when the guitar player busted out the slide and dropped some bluesy sounds on the audience. I also couldn’t help but be transfixed by the singer. Her soulful voice and slow swaying was hypnotizing, and gave the band a memorable and unique feature.
Morcheeba used the show to hype their new album, titled Head Held High, which drops on October 14. Their show convinced me to give it a listen.
Seeing new bands is fun, but I bought a ticket to see Thievery Corporation, and was beyond excited when Morcheeba’s set ended. I’ve listened to a lot of Thievery Corporation’s music and heard nothing but great things from all my friends who have seen them live. So when I saw they were playing the Greek I had to get a ticket. This summer was a summer of firsts for me and some of my favorite bands (Flaming Lips, Phish) and this show seemed like a perfect way to keep with the theme and end the summer with a bang.
When Thievery finally took the stage, the energy of the crowd near the front of the venue was hitting a perfect peak. Everybody had room to dance and was ready to get moving.
The set started with an instrumental jam with bandleader and DJ Rob Garza on guitar. The jam set the tone and let the audience know that they were about to throw quite the party. When it ended, Garza took his place behind the turntables, and from there everything is a bit of a blur. I counted 13 people in this band, 7 of which were part of a constantly rotating stable of singers. The guitar player played both a mean guitar and a mesmerizing sitar. The bass player danced more than anybody at the venue when he wasn’t standing on top of his amp. He laid down some filthy funk.
Double drummers kept the rhythms fast, tight, and complex. And the horns section added the kind of soaring energy that only brass instruments can.
The rotating singers allowed Thievery to constantly change genres, going from rap to dub reggae to Brazilian bossa nova to trip hop and back to rap in what felt like the blink of an eye. If live music is all about energy, and I believe it is, then Thievery Corporation has got all the elements that you want in a live touring act. I would absolutely see them again and would pay full price to do so.
At the end of the show, the band popped silver confetti over the crowd as all 13 members bounced around on stage. Amazingly, it didn’t feel cheesy. The band was having so much fun on stage that the audience couldn’t help but have at least as much fun as they were. They just went out and threw a giant dance party and confetti seemed like the only way it could’ve ended.
It turns out Saturday was not the first day of Fall; it was actually the last official day of summer. That means the Greek will be shutting down for the chillier months, but other venues around the Bay are just getting cranking. A look at the concert calendar for this fall is enough to get me through the less exciting aspects of a new semester.
Thievery Corporation popped the confetti on a great summer here in the Bay Area, and also kicked off what is sure to be an epic Fall of live music. Hopefully, I’ll see some of you out on the dance floor.
Photos and words by Ryan Riedmueller