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Paul Mann: Thievery Corporation, Massive Attack Launch Audio Assault

Double bill closes out 2010 season at the Santa Barbara Bowl

In the biggest double bill to descend on the Santa Barbara Bowl in the past few years, new music masters Thievery Corporation and Massive Attack closed out the 2010 season.

As part of the New Noise Santa Barbara Music Conference & Festival, the Nov. 5 concert was the crown jewel of the three-day event.

Thievery Corporation started the show right on time, before many of the music fans arrived to pack the house. The band features an ever-changing lineup of singers and musicians from across the music spectrum. The core of the group features Washington, D.C.-based electronic music wizards Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. The duo have been taking their musical carnival on the road for 15 years.

The two techno wizards mix their magical sounds discretely behind their turntables, while a sea of musicians and ever-changing singers perform a smorgasbord of sounds. The core band laid down an infectious dance beat while the parade of singers set the musical genre for each song, including singers Roots, Zeebo, Sleepy Wonder and Sista Pat. The music built to a trance-like crescendo through a techno, hip hop, dub rap, reggae, Middle Eastern, Indian and Brazilian veil of world music.

By the end of their 90-minute set, the Bowl was filled with ecstatic fans dancing in dreamlike euphoria. The band has just released a greatest hits album, It Takes a Thief. The new release is a great way for new fans of the group to introduce themselves to the band’s evolution over the years.

After a short break, the Bowl came alive with the darker sound of Massive Attack. Considered to be one of the inventors of the trip hop sound in the 1990s, the group hails from Bristol, England. Just like Thievery Corporation, Massive Attack is an ever-evolving group of musicians built around an electronic music duo. In this case, singer/DJ Grant Evan Marshall and Robert Del Naja are the masterminds. Daddy G and 3D, as they are more widely known, have been producing experimental music for more than 20 years.

Although all of their music has a dark synth undertone, each new album paints new textures and layers into their collective sound. The band immediately struck a dark mood, with an ear-piercing, bass-heavy backing sound and sinister back lighting obscuring the performers. The sound was so loud that the engineer tasked with monitoring decibel levels for the Santa Barbara Bowl could be seen grimacing by the soundboard. The band most likely faced a fine for exceeding the allowable decibel limit, but that seemed to suit music fans just fine.

The dark tone of the show was cemented with an elaborate light show featuring flashing electronic binary codes, left-leaning political messages and government statistics from across the globe. The result was an intensive multimedia assault on the senses with a flair for the academic. A steady stream of guest singers led the veteran band of accomplished musicians through an array of sounds — right until the 10 p.m. curfew.

What a great way to end the 2010 Santa Barbara Bowl season.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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