By: Andrew Brown
When I got to Masquerade last Thursday night, I was surprised to see that Simon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo, was sharing the stage with six other musicians. I don’t know what made me assume the show was going to be a DJ set, but I am grateful that it wasn’t. In fact, all but two dates on the tour, which kicked off a week ago in Chicago, are with the band. (The two DJ sets are doubled up in cities where the band is also performing).
Green’s latest album, Black Sands, often sounds like it was made by recording live musicians in a studio, rather than being synthesized entirely on a computer. I think performing music live is a great way to add energy and humanity to a performance, particularly with downtempo electronica like Bonobo. Green’s decision to use a band makes even more sense here, where no compromises need to be made to adapt the music to the band; it fits perfectly already.
Andreya Triana, who sang on three of Black Sands songs, was the band’s vocalist. When she was onstage (less than half the time), she stole the show, captivating the audience with her passionate delivery and satin voice. Her delivery of “Eyesdown”, the lurching two-step single from Black Sands, was precise. The phrasing of each line and inflection of every syllable were carbon copies from her vocals on the album’s version.
Triana’s voice and onstage persona are perfect fits for Bonobo. Like her, the band’s sound was peaceful and uplifting, ambient but danceable. Bonobo’s music is a far cry from the energy of other forms of electronica. There’s no fist pumping here, not even any jumping. Instead, the music is filled with calm and serenity. Which isn’t to say that you can’t dance to it. The audience, which was disappointingly small, moved with energy throughout the set.
At the front of the stage was a saxophone player, who occasionally traded his sax for a flute; to his left and right were a keyboard player and drummer. In back of them were a bassist and guitarist, and at the very back of the stage, behind his computer, was Green (from time to time he would emerge and play bass as well). The setup of the band was a humble but appropriate move on Green’s part – giving his band the prime real estate while relegating himself to the back of the stage puts the audience’s focus on the musicians, not on Green hitting the spacebar or twiddling an effects knob.
Not that the musicians’ position on stage ultimately determined how much attention they got – each performer had his or her turn in the limelight at some point throughout the performance. For Triana, this was whenever she was on stage; for the drummer, it was a drum solo that gave way to an awesome drum-sax jam. And for Green, the least noticeable yet most important member? He got a share of the spotlight as well, on the rare occasions when the rest of the band would leave the stage.
My only gripe with the show is that it was too short. The band came on a little before 10 and had wrapped up their encore by 11:30. Even so, it was one of the best performances I’ve been to all year. I will be sure to go to every Bonobo show I can in the future, if we’re lucky enough to be graced with more U.S. tours.
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