It’s been just over two years since the Washington collective of Thievery Corporation, centred around Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, played Australia.
Then, the reggae-infused sounds of ninth (and latest) studio album 'The Temple of I & I' were still roughly a year from release, so it was no surprise to hear them front and centre of a rousing performance at the Forum (11 March).
More than 20 years after Garza and Hilton broke out with their 'Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi 'LP, the duo has the luxury of drawing on a bulging back catalogue to fashion their live shows.
From the Middle Eastern rhythms of 2000’s 'The Mirror Conspiracy' and the psychedelic tones of 2004’s 'The Cosmic Game', to the protesting hip hop of 2008’s 'Radio Retaliation' and 2011’s 'Culture Of Fear' and, more recently, the bossa nova sounds of 2014’s 'Saudade', each Thievery Corporation album has been unique, immersive and worldly.
With so many musical influences to draw on, the duo’s live performances have long been lauded.
While Garza and Hilton remain at the centre, the expansive live band they lug around the world allows for an electrifying live show. And so it was at the Forum, as an up-for-it Sunday night crowd – no doubt buoyed by the ensuing public holiday – rolled up en masse.
From the moment the mellow, smoked-out beats of opener 'Marching The Hate Machines (Into The Sun)' washed over the crowd, Garza – who again made the trip Down Under without Hilton – led proceedings with aplomb, ably assisted throughout by a bevy of vocalists and a well-oiled band, each with their own stage presence.
Long-time guitarists Rob Myers and Ashish 'Hash' Vyas were on point, the former effortlessly changing from guitar to sitar to perform 'Lebanese Blonde', and the latter endlessly bounding across the stage on his bass.
Drummer Jeff Franca’s skills, meanwhile, are a perfect accompaniment to the lush, live percussion of Frank Orrall. Both delivered tight performances, with their to-and-fro on the hypnotic 'Illumination' (from 'The Mirror Conspiracy') a highlight.
On the vocal front, long-time touring vocalists Natalia Clavier and Loulou Ghelichhkani dazzled with sultry performances on 'Love Has No Heart' and 'Time + Space' respectively, but it’s the recent addition of Kingston, Jamaica local Raquel Jones that has added some real attitude to the live show.
Stepping out to perform several songs from last year’s 'The Temple Of I &I', Jones brought real energy to the stage, with her rendition of 'Letter To The Editor' a show standout.
Similarly, Washington MC Notch brought serious fire to the Forum, with blistering performances of the bass heavy 'True Sons Of Zion' (again taken from 'The Temple of I & I') and the more contemplative 'Amerimacka'.
Boston MC Mr Lif, despite some sound issues, nevertheless whipped the crowd into a frenzy with conscious raps on 'Fight To Survive' and 'Ghetto Matrix', and joined others on stage towards the end to perform an ‘all in’ jam of 'Warning Shots'.
While dark, rumbling basslines and emotive electronic effects are a signature of Thievery Corporation, Sunday’s performance underlined how the band has been able to evolve with each album.
This was no more evident than towards the end of their Melbourne performance, as Garza introduced each member of the band (and their expansive geographic roots) over a looping riff of INXS’s 'Need You Tonight'.
From rap to reggae, bossa nova to brooding, sitar-laced electronica, Garza and Hilton have stayed true to their roots while moving with the musical times. A great show.