Bonobo, aka Simon Green, is touring in support of his latest album, Black Sands -- and he brings with him enough instrumentalists to accurately reproduce its sweeping, orchestral sounds, plus Andreya Triana, the vocalist whose haunting, lovely voice is heard on several Black Sands tracks. His set at the Ogden was a near-flawless livetronica set that was a joy to absorb.
Before Bonobo took the stage, though, L.A.'s Tokimonsta appeared with Suzi Analogue as Analogue Monsta, and warmed up the crowd with some old-school hip-hop stylings flavored with a modern twist.Tokimonsta laid down slow, jazzy, funky beats, over which Analogue crooned. The duo played with tempo, adding extra rat-a-tats into the drum line and morphing the sound using squealing strings, train whistles, spectral whispers and sighs and otherworldly cackles and rattles.
The vibrating bass lines helped set off the clear, pure tones amidst all the distortion, and Tokimonsta morphed to a dark, jungle-inspired bass line while Analogue's vocals took on an exotic, almost tribal flavor. This track seamlessly moved into a reggae tune, which Tokimonsta then, somehow, twisted into the Prodigy's "Out of Space."
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That's the best part of watching Tokimonsta at work: Her taste in music is so eclectic, and her genre impossible to pin down (apart from the clear hip-hop influence), so she can merge sounds you would never expect to hear together -- for example, her tribute to Los Angeles, which featured the opening guitar riff of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" mashed with Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive." Her bluesy sax lines, tightly controlled beats and sweeping taste lead to the type of sets where you truly don't know where she'll go next, but it's always danceable and interesting.
Tokimonsta and Suzi Analogue left the stage after an all-too-short set, allowing the stage crew to set up for Bonobo. The producer brings a live band with him when he tours, so instead of watching one DJ or live sampling artist do his thing on stage, we were treated to a full band, creating chemistry and working their magic together while Bonobo bounced from one instrument to another.
The first song opened with eerie strings, deep tribal drums, a guitar line and a snakelike rattle moving in and out of the soundscape. The bassline came in lightly, as did the flute, and then a trumpet and trombone were added to the mix. The overall effect of the seven instrumentalists, plus a DJ/sampling artist and Andreya Triana, was sweeping and orchestral, gorgeously conveying live many of the tracks Bonobo has crafted on Black Sands.
The band played "Kong" before moving into "Stay the Same," which beautifully showcased Triana's haunting voice over wistful, poignant violin lines. It's a song about transition and loss, moving on and lingering over past memories, and Triana and the band conveyed the profound, compelling mood perfectly. They played "Days to Come," the gorgeous guitar line overlaid with a bell-like chime, and then "The Keeper," which showcased the fantastic horn-playing from the brass section and ignited the crowd into spontaneously clapping along with the beat.
Simon Green himself moved back and forth, playing the bass for some songs, and for others, moving back behind the DJ table so he could tweak and add to the sound. While playing DJ, everyone else left the stage, and Green stood alone, feeding his audience a deep bassline with slinky beats, then adding a contrasting high chime. The result was slightly Tim Burton-esque, something you might hear while the hero is walking around in a Burton film, and slowly the band members rejoined him on stage for a trombone solo, then a sax solo, mellow and sweet.
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Triana sang vocals for one of the most tantalizing, heartfelt tracks on Black Sands, "Eyesdown," her ethereal vocals skittering atop the intelligent, funky beats and deep, dirty basslines. The effect was distorted, eerie, and gorgeous, and a perfect setup for the plucky, happy guitar-driven song that followed. Green picked up one of the guitars, and one by one, the band members left the stage until it was only Green, Triana and the DJ left; his guitar, her voice and the soft, lovely chimes were a perfect combination.
The set closed with a funky, syncopated beat, looping violins and sassy brass, which morphed into a drum solo, then added in the jazzy saxophone to uplift the dubstep-like syncopation, the sax moaning like a siren, until the sax and drums jammed back into the original track. Bonobo left the stage then, only to return for an all-too-short encore, just two songs.
One was another bass-laden, jazzy, funky number with music box-like chimes, and the second was "Between the Lines," an earlier effort that originally features Bajka on lyrics, but Triana did a fabulous job filling in, while Green took over on keyboard for this final number. It was a lovely wrap-up to a gorgeous set that was over all too soon; Green thanked Denver for the warm welcome before sending us packing back into the bitterly cold night.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I love Bonobo's sound; the live set was an extra treat for me. And although I don't know much about Tokimonsta and had never seen a complete set, I was thoroughly impressed by the scope and execution of her hip-hop sound. I could have easily listened to another hour of each set; it was over too soon. Random Detail: There were a few sound-related glitches toward the beginning of Bonobo's set -- screechy feedback, mostly -- but the band never missed a beat, and the sound engineers pulled it together after the first few songs. By the Way: An inebriated man close to me was loudly declaring his love for Andreya Triana, and after hearing her sing live, I can't blame him; she played one song on stage by herself, vocalizing melodies, a beat and the lyrics, layering and looping them together like a jazz-and-funk-infused female version of Keller Williams.