Arts & Entertainment, Events, The Muse

Brilliant Bonobo

London’sSimon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo, is a downtempo whiz, cobbling samples from sundry sources to create albums full of textured, hypnotic trip-hop. Occasionally he’s even accompanied by a vocalist on some songs from his last two albums, Days to Come and Black Sands, the latter of which was released just last month. Green has brought together several musicians to tour in support of the new record, and with as many as seven members on stage at once, the live Bonobo show is even more detailed than the recordings &-&- new arrangements allow the audience to experience every facet and nook of Green’s music.

Even when there is no vocalist at the forefront of the music, Green often uses sputtering vocal samples to keep his sound from being too impersonal. The band opened its set Wednesday at the Paradise Rock Club with “Kiara,”the lead track from Black Sands, and then transitioned smoothly to “Ketto,” a favorite from Days to Come. Both selections feature airy female vocals that flicker sporadically through the instrumentation. This take on “Ketto” was particularly expansive, starting with a muffled harp sample blown apart by rumbling bass hits on the upbeat, complicating the rhythm before shifting to a different arrangement with other instrumentation and Green on bass, giving the song a weight more melodic than just percussive.
The band opened up its sound with the introduction of Andreya Triana, the primary vocalist from Black Sands. “The Keeper” showed off Triana’s sultry voice, rich in the low register but versatile enough to scat and hit high notes. The arrangements for songs with Triana were pared down to focus more on her voice, as the verses were stripped to stuttering drums and bass mixed low. Triana also got the audience much more involved, leading a handclap bridge into a plaintive outro with the repeated line, “We can’t go on living this way.”
Despite this occasional focus on vocals, the music displayed band’s sense of balance and all-around skill. In “Days to Come,”a song not written for Triana but to which she adapted effortlessly, the woodwind and brass player looped his saxophone for more melodies, and several of the members got spotlights for brief solos, which never veered on noodling.
In the thumping, almost uncharacteristically upbeat set-closer “Transmission,” Green used a mid-song transition to introduce all the band members, after which a delicate guitar riff led other instruments to trickle into a pulsing climax. Encore song “El Toro” was nimbler and busier than most of the band’s other songs, utilizing a swirling violin sample and horn accents featuring an extended, complex drum and horn solo, which gave way to the return of the melodic theme seamlessly and surprisingly.
In the latter half of the show, the band explored other styles in depth. “Noctuary,” from 2003’s Dial “M’ for Monkey, was both harsher and more psychedelic, driven by 60s lounge-style keyboard and decorated with high-pitched string samples, while “All in Forms” juxtaposed a crackly soul vocal sample with heavy, distorted guitar, before lining up that same sample with electric piano and a breezy guitar riff.
Highlights included some of the most memorable songs from the previous two albums. Green started off “Recurring”from Days to Come solo, changing the beat of another string sample from a swaying waltz to a forceful 4/4, rendering this wistful song almost explosive in a heavier mix. “Eyesdown,” the dubby lead single from Black Sands, glowed darkly, creating a perfect atmosphere for Triana’s smoky vocals, which covered more range than in other songs, and the tune swelled as members came in on fuzzy keyboard, flute and bigger drums toward the end.

Although Green continues to release consistently stunning work from the studio, his band’s live set is truly a spectacle, as he chooses only the best musicians available to flesh out his sound. Even without knowing any of his music, any fan of groove-based, well-put-together music would thoroughly enjoy Bonobo’s set.

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