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New York Cool - Music

Thievery Corporation
and Bebel Gilberto
Central Park Summerstage
June 26, 2008

Written by John Hashop Photographed by Amy Davidson

Opposite Photo: Bebel Gilberto


An All-Too-Corporate Event

Thievery Corporation

I first crossed paths with Thievery Corporation late last century when it seemed every other lounge in Austin was playing their 1997 release Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi on repeat. My girlfriend and I had just graduated from 11 o'clock classes and Pabst Blue Ribbon to day jobs and dirty martinis – "Day Jobs and Dirty Martinis", incidentally, will be the title of Chapter 42 of my autobiography. Anyway, we were All Grown Up and Extremely Sophisticated, and we listened to DJs spinning ambient, trip-hop and downbeat while we sipped our drinks and bandied about terms like "ambient", "trip-hop" and "downbeat".

Sadly, all phases, by definition, must come to an end, and as the pendulum of my tastes swung back towards acoustic, I found myself listening to less and less electronica until I came to the point where Thievery Corporation had achieved footnote status in my music library. So I was naturally intrigued to hear they would be playing Central Park's Summerstage series. My interest became downright piqued when I read on and realized they would be playing with Bebel Gilberto, daughter of Grammy-winning Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto (and stepdaughter of Astrud Gilberto of "Girl from Ipanema" fame), who provided the vocals for several of their studio releases. And finally, I was sent into a certifiable tizzy to learn that another Brazilian musician would be joining them: Seu Jorge, who is most familiar to American audiences as the Bowie-covering guitarist in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. All these talented musicians, a pleasant night in Central Park, a crowd filled with more beautiful, scantily-clad people than I have seen in many a long year? How could it go wrong?


Singer Lou Lou of Thievery Corporation Sister Pat of Thievery Corporation


"All too easily" is the unfortunate answer.

It turns out that the major problem with playing ambient music in a concert setting is that the music becomes, well, ambient. Don't get me wrong, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the two DJs that are the core of the group, still can spin with the best. Their strongest suit is how fluidly they mix smooth beats with everything from traditional Indian instruments to bossa nova rhythms, and they haven't slowed down one bit since I last gave them a listen. If only people had been paying attention. The beautiful people I watched spent most of their time watching all the other beautiful people, and I'm not sure I could blame them. Sure, there were people watching the show, but, honestly, when was the last time you were at a club and everyone was standing around watching the DJ? The live musicians playing along (sitarists, percussionists, etc) were as good as you'd expect them to be, but, again, hardly attention-grabbing -- there's a reason band's have frontmen. And I had an odd feeling, as Bebel Gilberto valiantly and vainly tried to rally the chatting crowd's attention, that I had been here before, and I have: Dell Computer's End of Fiscal Year 2000 Rally. When Bebel left the stage I found myself half-expecting Michael Dell to come striding out to shout about how we were absolutely burying Gateway and how proud he was of us all.

All the ingredients of a corporate picnic were there: burgers, beers, very good band but half-listening audience, girls in skimpy bikinis shrieking Portuguese into their cell phones, smoke signal-like bursts of pot smoke blossoming from the crowd... Okay, so maybe the concert was a bit more fun than the Dell rally, but honestly this concert didn't seem to me to be about the music. The only time I felt I was at a concert was when Seu Jorge came out and rumbled at us with his wonderfully-gravelly voice, but he was woefully underused -- when he made his exit, so did I.



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