Concert Review: Bonobo, November 5, Phoenix

Toronto – Back in the late summer of 2007, I was living in Calgary without a car and was so desperate to check out Bonobo live, after I’d listened to his Live Sessions EP and Solid Steel Presents mix for months on end, that when he was booked into a small dance bar in Nelson, BC for a DJ set, I conned a friend of mine who only listened to country and hard rock into driving us the sixteen hour round trip to his show. I was checking out hostels in the area for us to stay the night when the gig was cancelled. For years I’ve seen Bonobo’s name in the lineup for the Montreal Jazz Festival, and spent the days before his set there counting my pennies to see if I had enough for a flight. Earlier this year, his live tour went through Toronto in early April, about two weeks before I was set to come back from Europe, then played a series of shows all over Holland a month after I flew home.

So after years of wanting to see Bonobo, aka British DJ/musician Simon Green, play live, it was probably too much to ask for him and his band to meet my sky-high expectations.

That’s not to say their set last Friday night at the Phoenix wasn’t good. Far from it: it was quite possibly the best show I’ve seen this year. Not only was Bonobo’s new album, Black Sands, clearly made with a full band playing it in mind in a way his previous, more sample-driven albums weren’t, the live setup he and his band employ really gives some of his older tunes a new depth that’s very cool to hear. Starting off the night behind the decks alongside a live drummer on “Recurring” was a brilliant start. “Ketto,” one of my favourites, really takes on an added tone of menace live at high volumes, with eardrum-rattling bass punctuating every other beat. Green bounced from turntables to bass guitar between tunes, sometimes during the same song, and his flautist/saxaphonist, guitarist and drummer were all standouts from the terrific eight-piece band. Ending the encore with “Pick Up”, possibly the best electro song with a flute part ever produced, was a great way to finish off the night.

With my expectations so high, though, I couldn’t help but find things to be disappointed with. As good as the tracks with vocalist Andreya Triana sound on record, they didn’t come across as well here. I can’t help but wonder if she just doesn’t sound as good live as she does in a studio. On the other hand, half the songs she was given to sing were from Bonobo’s previous release, Days to Come, and are among my least favourite tunes in his repertoire, so maybe it wasn’t entirely her fault, and I would much rather have heard Triana sing tunes from her solo album as an opener than stand through Thunderball’s mediocre opening DJ set like I did. I know it’s kind of lame to be a longtime fan and criticize a setlist for not featuring all of your old favourites, but damned if I wasn’t disappointed not to hear Bonobo do “Dismantling Frank”, “Nothing Owed” or “The Plug”.

However, these are things that kept me from giving the show full marks, not things that ruined my night. If Bonobo had actually been able to meet my expectations years after the disappointment of not being able to see him DJ in Nelson, BC and years of fandom before that when I hopelessly figured he’d never tour outside Europe, I’d probably had had to pull a Ricky and give his show a ten out of five or something. Bonobo is a great musician, a terrific producer and DJ, and I’m delighted to have finally got the chance to see him live.

Bonobo – Ketto by tashaleto

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Everything

One Response to Concert Review: Bonobo, November 5, Phoenix

  1. Pingback: CMW Review: Alanna Clarke, Seventh Rain, Amy Heffernan, Krystle Dos Santos; March 11, Bread & Circus | The Panic Manual

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