Concert Review: Thievery Corporation, Kool Haus, Feb 22 2009

Toronto – The Washington-based duo Thievery Corporation came to Toronto last Saturday to share their unique fusion of solid beats decorated with musical styles from the world over. The heart of Thievery consists of duo Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. They filled out the stage by bringing a veritable posse of over 10 other musicians, including a Brazilian songstress, a sitar-player, horns, and assorted percussionists. This is the 2nd date of a new tour helping to promote their latest album, Radio Retaliation. You can check out an excellent review of this album by my fellow Panic-Manualer Brian here.

Sure the bass drums may sound “great” if they’re literally shaking your chest, but if it’s doing so at the expense of the vocals, the horns, and the sitars, then all you’re left with is some muddy-ass drum and bass

I will say that I was looking forward to this show for months. Thievery is one of my go-to groove bands when I just want to get in the zone and stay there. It’s good music to listen to when doing stuff; like polishing shoes, or ironing, or working/studying. Radio Retaliation is by far their most political offering to date, but it still contains the main elements of Thievery that I love; killer beats and an atmospheric sound. While the show was great, I think my expectations were probably a little unrealistic given the venue that is Kool Haus.

I don’t want to be a one-trick pony where all my live reviews consist of an intense critique of the venue, but the more concerts I attend, the more I realize how important the venue is. It is a critical element that will colour the entire concert-going experience, for better or worse. I have to say, I do try to avoid the Kool Haus (and the affiliated guvernment) at many costs, and will only be persuaded by my favourite bands. To Thievery’s credit, they are one of those bands. That being said, after this experience at Kool Haus, the bar for “what bands I will go see at Kool Haus even though I hate Kool Haus” has just been raised a couple notches.

I think if we spent more time making sure that a band is properly heard, then the crowd will concentrate on making sure that it’s being properly felt.

Now, I know that getting a live band to sound good is no easy feat. Any sound engineer worth their salt will tell you that working a big cavernous concrete box like Kool Haus is no simple task. But I do feel that sound engineer’s today could learn a great deal by discovering that special button known as the “master volume knob”. Sure the bass drums may sound “great” if they’re literally shaking your chest, but if it’s doing so at the expense of the vocals, the horns, and the sitars, then all you’re left with is some muddy-ass drum and bass. I think if we spent more time making sure that a band is properly heard, then the crowd will concentrate on making sure that it’s being properly felt.

So, despite the sound and feedback issues, I would say that Thievery made the best of the situation. They started at 10, but things really got going about 20 minutes into the set when they started to dust off some well-known material from their 2002 album, The Richest Man in Babylon. The beats were solid and got the crowd shaking for most of the 2 hour set. Despite the sound issues, it was still impressive that an electronica-duo would tour with so many musicians. How cool is it to have an electronic band playing live with horns, a real sitar player, and two beautiful songstresses? One highlight was hearing the song “exilio” set to female vocals.

So overall, I’m glad I went to see Thievery Corporation. I would have preferred to see them in a less crappy venue. Although Thievery is a fairly popular band, the $50 price-tag combined with a place as thoroughly underwhelming as Kool Haus makes for a questionable transaction. A band like Thievery can only command a price like that at a place that actually sounds good, like the Mod Club or the Phoenix. Sadly, after this experience, the list of bands that I’m willing to go see at the Kool Haus for this kind of dough just got a whole lot smaller.

Thievery Corporation: 4/5
Kool Haus: 2.7/5

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Posted on by Mark in Concerts

6 Responses to Concert Review: Thievery Corporation, Kool Haus, Feb 22 2009

  1. Brian

    Nice review. I’m not Kool Haus fan either. Much as I’d have liked to see Thievery Corporation the $50 price tag for tickets scared me off. $50 to see anything at Kool Haus seems faintly ridiculous. Glad someone went, though.

  2. Marko

    Hi! I was at the concert and thought it was amazing! I am a big TC fan and really never thought I would see them live. It was a real treat!

    I thought they started with both barrels right from the start. The first song was killer but I don’t have it in my collection I don’t think. Do you know which album it was from?

    Anyway…the bass was HUGE, you’re right. I thought my heart was going to stop for a minute because of the vibrations. Oh well…it didn’t put me off.

    I thought it was funny when the Rasta man lit up a fatt and handed it into the crowd. Pfff!

    Kool Haus seemed a little…pretentious to me but I use to go there when it was RPM. I’ve been in BC for 15 years and was surprised to see how it changed. I’d go back to see live music again as long as it was a band I really liked.


  3. Marco

    It’s not just the Kool Haus. I just saw TC last night at the House of Blues in Boston. The bass was set to “11” for many of the songs. The rib-rattling experience came at the expense of the horns and sitar, which were a bit weak by comparison.

    I was disappointed that “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” didn’t get played. I guess TC couldn’t find a good Hindi singer to tour with them.

    The drummer (I don’t know his name) did stand in vocals on a few songs. “Revolution Solution” was nicely done, yet this guy’s voice was not a good fit for “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter”. TC should have either cut this song from the set or let one of the female vocalists try something different with it.

    Otherwise, the concert was a good one. Downtempo music doesn’t often work well onstage. However, Thievery Corporation pulled it off. The lined up some good live talent, then got out of the way. Definately worth the US$40 ticket. 3.5 out of 5 on my scale.

    Hey Marko…the opening song in the Boston show was “Sound the Alarm”. It starts off with an air-raid siren and is likely the song you’re looking for. You’ll find it on their latest CD, “Radio Retaliation”.



  4. Mark

    Marco is correct. They did start the set off with the “Sound the Alarm” from the Radio Retaliation album.

  5. Alicia

    We drove to Atlanta from Asheville, NC to see Thievery Corporation play “live” at the Tabernacle. Needless to say, we were quite disappointed when 3 or so songs in to the performance, we realized that half of the musicians werent even PLAYING any music, they were just pretending. I loved the vocals of all the singers, I thought that was absolutely amazing to hear, but I was really annoyed that the founders of TC themselves were faking the keyboards as well as the mixing on the CD decks. The guy on the bongo drums seemed upset the entire time because he wasn’t actually playing for the majority of the time. It’s like he was being paid to just act like he was playing. Same goes for the guy in charge of the cowbell on the other side of the state (he’s the one that sings the Welcome to my Spaceship song..) Nobody else in the entire venue seemed to notice, which really just made us feel like everyone in the theater got played. All in all, the show was great, but the fact that half the music was faked, AND they were pretending to be playing it, was a big disappointment. I mean, if you can’t have all the music played live, thats fine! But dont fake it. :( We drove to Atlanta and made a weekend out of our trip to see them, and this was the end result.. Oh well. I only hope others noticed too.

  6. Fleedermouse

    I seen them once and they sucked and it wasn’t the venue’s fault. They played hyped-up BS crap and were nearly indistinguishable from Major Lazer who, as indicated, sucked as well. Good thing Richie Hawtin was there to save the day :)

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