Friday, November 8, 2013
Concert review: Bonobo and Erykah Badu brought soul to House of Blues
After seeing the producer's performance with a live band, the genre "downtempo electronica" seems far too simple a descriptor.
DALLAS U.K. producer Simon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo, treated House of Blues to his musical mysticism Thursday night during his 100th show since April in support of 2013’s The North Borders full-length.
Green stopped through on his way to Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin with a five-piece band in tow. And though it was the musician's second time to perform in Dallas this year, a heightened anticipation was buzzing around the venue even before the house lights went down.
Thursday afternoon, Bonobo announced via Facebook that Dallas’ resident diva Erykah Badu would make a guest appearance. The soul singer, who was featured on Green’s latest album, added a thick silver lining to an already stellar concert mid-set when she performed North Border’s “Heaven For The Sinner” followed by one of her most popular jams, “Bag Lady.”
Her impromptu cameo provided a connecting fiber between the audience and the stage. Like a Badu stamp of approval, her lyrics seemed to induct Bonobo into the city’s immediate family, to the overwhelming pleasure of his and her fans.
To Green’s credit, he didn’t need validation as he masterfully weaved the electronic sounds of current and past albums together like a novel. Green entered the stage solo, playing the first notes of “Cirrus” to a roar of applause. He gradually folded in drummer Jack Baker, multi-instrumentalist Michael Lesirge (who emerged first to play electronic samples, then an array of woodwinds like flute, clarinet and saxophone) and, eventually, keyboardist Ewan Wallace at the apex of the track.
The culmination of these four musicians set the tone for the entire show, and having vocalist Szjeredene on the scene in a red flapper dress didn’t hurt either. Any onlooker would have seen a mix of dancing bodies, but they would have felt much more: The vibe was electric.
In 2010, I interviewed Green before a live band performance at Trees. During that conversation he denounced any generic label, saying “downtempo electronica” was far too simple an explanation for his work. In truth, it’s easy to box in any electronic music as one-dimensional. But those who witnessed Bonobo with a live band wouldn't use "electronic" or "synthetic" to describe its sound.
Bonobo, at its core, is a jazz band. Players rocked epic instrumental solos with expert execution and improvised from a classical foundation. During songs such as “Towers,” the band switched into funk mode. Other songs were laden with rhythm and blues, and the singers helped create a sexy, soulful undertone to the show. The only thing missing was a live string section.
Bonobo conducted two hours of old and new songs, sticking primarily to North Borders and 2010’s Black Sands, though simply listing what the band played would be missing the point.
Aussie opener Chet Faker, too, played into this image-altering slice of electronic music. Between his three microphones, he layered and looped vocal tracks while physically cuing every sample on his pad. He would alternate playing keyboard and beats, ending with a captivating remake of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”
If you have doubts about new wave DJs and their precorded, “magic hands” nonsense, check these two bands out for a refreshing lesson in musicianship. You'll be amazed.