Bonobo - Fonda Theatre - 5-4-13
Bonobo with El Ten Eleven
Timothy Norris Simon Green of Bonobo
On Saturday an electronic music show was scheduled at the Fonda. Instead, a jazz concert broke out. And it was awesome. New York-based Ninja Tune producer Simon Green, the man behind Bonobo, has been evolving away from his downtempo electronica roots for awhile now. His last three albums, including this year's luminous The North Borders, have used more and more live instruments and vocals, adding textures and layers of sound rarely heard alongside programmed beats since the early '00s heyday of nu jazz.
In concert, with a 10-piece backing band, Green brought those textures into the foreground, transforming his jewel-box compositions into extended, fiery jam sessions with live drums, vocals, sax and flute solos and even a damn string section. I'd call it "livetronica" but a) that term kinda sucks and b) it's already been claimed by shitty synth-based jam bands like Sound Tribe Sector 9.
Local duo El Ten Eleven set the tone with an opening set that, if you closed your eyes, frequently sounded like it was coming off a Korg and an MPC pad. It was, however, the product of energetic live drumming and the dazzlingly intricate playing of Kristian Dunn, who used a double-neck guitar/bass and a buffet of loop pedals to weave his inventive riffs into Explosions in the Sky-like epics of blissed-out post-rock.
Timothy Norris El Ten Eleven
"Everything you hear is being done live," Dunn explained to the audience at one point. "There's no laptops or click tracks." Then, no doubt remembering who he was opening for, he politely added, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Green does include a laptop in his stage gear, and it figured prominently in his opening track, "Cirrus," whose gamelan palette of bells and chimes would have been difficult to replicate otherwise. By the next track, "Sapphire," most of Green's mini-army of backing musicians had taken the stage, Green had strapped on a bass guitar, and the show was off to explore that mysterious and fertile land somewhere between jazz, soul and electronic music.
The crowd hung on every note, whether it was squeezed out of a live sax, Green's trusty laptop, or the beguiling vocal cords of the band's singer, Szjerdene, who drifted on and offstage as needed. (Despite some rumors, Erykah Badu, a scheduled guest at the band's San Francisco stop, failed to appear.)
The show's most amazing moment happened, ironically, when Green wasn't even on the stage. While he and the rest of the band took a break, drummer Jack Baker uncorked an extended solo that was, in defiance of over 40 years of boring, self-indulgent drum solos, actually fun to watch. He was soon joined by saxophonist Mike Lesirge, and then shit really got crazy. Lesirge ran his horn through some kind of magical dubstep pedal and turned a simple sax-and-drums duet into an epic of wobbling bass and screaming-dinosaur riffs. I thought the crowd would go nuts, and a few pot-smoke-enshrouded groups did, but most of them clearly had no idea what was going on.
Timothy Norris Szjerdene