During high school, my friends and I misspent more than a few Saturday nights driving aimlessly around the suburbs searching for fast food and listening to chill-out mainstays like Funki Porcini, A Tribe Called Quest and Thievery Corporation. Call it bourgeois transcendence. Thievery Corporation’s 2005 downtempo classic The Cosmic Game became the mirror that each of us needed: age 17, brimming with equal parts progressive resentment and middle-class guilt by association, and dealing with it by righteously bobbing our heads to accessible agit-hop anthems.
Thursday night’s Thievery Corporation concert at the Charlottesville Pavilion was all of that, writ large. Mix maestro Rob Garza presided over the latest stop on the ensemble’s Radio Retaliation Tour. Although TC’s other permanent member, Eric Hilton, was conspicuously absent, the motley array of tour collaborators from South America to Virginia Beach to Iran carried a packed set with apparent ease, tirelessly performing more than two hours of fist-pumping, chakra-tickling trip-hop.
Leading off, San Diego bass virtuoso Ashish Vyas wasted no time in making off with the show like a bandit—aggressively gyrating and tweaking his instrument as though possessed by some tantric deity. Vyas’ solo fed into Garden State soundtrack crowd-pleaser “Lebanese Blonde,” with Guyana’s delightful, dreadlocked Sista Pat inhabiting the late Pam Bricker’s vocal part. Then entered a series of magnetic, brazenly erotic femme fatales: Brazil’s transhumanly beautiful Karina Zeviani in face paint and sans brassiere, melancholy Persian starlet Lou Lou and Argentina’s foxy, spunky Natalia Clavier rounding out the trio with jitterbug stage presence.
Alternating between older material and tracks from their 2009 release Radio Retaliation, Thievery and company scored big with protest tunes like “Amerimacka” and “Sound the Alarm.” Emcees Rootz and Zeeba Steele channeled the audience’s somewhat self-conscious aggression towards typical bogeymen like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in “Vampires.” Later, they provoked the Pavilion to a frenzied crescendo with the cathartic “Warning Shots,” inviting a supercharged, crackling call-and-response that left not a single dry adrenal gland in the house. Other highlights include the hip-shaking David Byrne collaboration “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” with percussionist Frank Orrall taking the vocals with abundant charm.
There’s probably something to the fact that the loudest cheers coincided with the angriest tunes, but the overall atmosphere of the show was a spirit of barrier-softening unity, a fluid meeting of on-stage melting pot and, let’s face it, homogenous audience. Garza and company ended the set with a sublime double encore, mellowing us out with a “Strange Days” remix and a soothing rendition of “Heaven’s Gonna Burn Your Eyes,” among others. It became unclear, as Zeeba and Roots brought the audience onto the stage, where exactly the fault lines had gone. The Corporation stole away with our barriers and put them to a gentle dissolve.