I have a lot of fond and clear memories of listening to Bonobo after initially discovering Simon Green’s music in 2008. I played his early albums on repeat while catching sleep in college. Dizzurt and I were completely aghast at how these beautiful and innovative productions from this mysterious Brit were pretty much unknown in America. We anxiously awaited the day when Bonobo would play a show in the States. Today, Bonobo tours with a talented live band and sells out shows across the country to crowds of all ages and scenes.
It was one of those beautiful post-winter nights in Boston where you stroll down Commonwealth Avenue and arrive in front of the Paradise Rock Club, knowing that the artist on the marquee was gonna’ do all they could to make it memorable one. IntuiSean and I arrived just as Bonobo Live Band filled the stage. I was told that the opener had cancelled last minute, so the night would be all about Bonobo. Turned out, we were going to be blessed with an eighteen song show that included nine of the thirteen tracks off of the new album The North Borders.
I navigated my way through the fleshy forest of stationary fans (some of whom had no courtesy to let a photographer around them to the front) to my sweet spot on the dance floor to get the best footage. I would have nabbed a bunch of footage throughout the night, but I was unfamiliar with my friend’s microphone attachment, so unfortunately I ended up with a bunch of videos with no sound. These things happen when you are attempting to operate equipment in dim light surrounded on all sides by swaying bodies.
The show kicked off with a couple of the more hyper, glitch-bliss cuts off of the new album. As the band played “Emkay” into “Sapphire,” they warmed up the packed but quite tame crowd with a little groovin’ ebb and flow. I’ve always loved Bonobo’s version of “the drop,” where a song decrescendos and minimizes for a few moments before releasing back into the layer cake. I knew there would be a female vocalist on tour with the band, a role that both Bajka and Andreya Triana have knocked out of the park. Szjerdene (pronounced “Jhurdeen”), tall and dark with a short boy haircut, entered stage left like a revelation. Yet another Ninja Tune vocalist from the UK poised to break out through her collaboration with Bonobo. Our first taste of her voice came with the mild and smooth “Towers,” one of the two tracks she sung in the studio for the new album.
“What’s going on Boston, I’ve been looking forward to this all week. We’re gonna play some new stuff from the new record The North Borders, but we’re gonna take it back a little bit right now.” The crowd clapped and cheered, but I figured there weren’t many who were as glad to hear that statement as I was. Then the familiar acoustic guitar progression of “Stay the Same” came in, and we got our first bit of nostalgia of the night. I enjoyed Szjerdene’s interpretation of the vocal harmonies on this song, and she seemed to be loosening up a little bit. The band then took a break and allowed Simon to do a little solo producer performance on his AKAI APC 40 and MPK 25. The bright bulbs flashed up and down the skinny, vertical light rigs behind Simon as he tapped and twisted out Black Sands‘ “Prelude/Kiara” and took it into the bass heavy “Ketto” off of Days to Come. The band joined back in and really rocked out with some jamming and solos from Mike Lesirge on winds, Ewan Wallace on guitar, Johnny Tomlinson on the keys, and Jack Baker on drums.
I think some of the most impressive moments in a Bonobo show are when the band lowers their heads, tightens their muscles and jams for a few minutes. I think they should jam like that more often, just loop the track and get instrumental with it. Then came “Nocutary” from 2003’s Dial M for Monkey. Simon stepped out from behind the table and was front and center with his bass. I love the part of this song when the clarinet brings the tempo and mood down to a slow crawl, and the drums gradually speed things back up. After the first trip down memory lane, the band brought it back to 2013 by playing “First Fires” and “Heaven for the Sinner.” Definitely my two favorite new tracks, although I wish Grey Reverend and Erykah Badu would have been there to really do them justice. They didn’t translate too well instrumentally either, one of those moments where I would have rather heard the studio version played.
My favorite part of the night was when the band did a run of the classics including “Nightlite,” “Reccuring,” “We Could Forever,” “El Toro,” and “The Keeper.” They have been playing these ones live together for years, and it shows. Really tight and eclectic play from everyone on stage and a great time to move around the venue to connect with friends and smile at strangers. “El Toro,” with its bossa nova rhythms and string/horn combo, is always exciting to watch. The saxaphone and drum battle that was waged on stage was something that I heard discussed amongst the crowd for the rest of the night. Hearing “The Keeper” reminded me of seeing the band play the same room with Andreya in 2009 for their last album release. It was definitely a turning point for the band then, and nearly four years later I’m feeling like this new release is taking Simon and his band’s notoriety to an even higher realm.
“Be back at the House of Blues at the end of the summer. See you all there again. Five days into the tour and Boston is the best one yet,” Simon said to my surprise. Although, it’s no surprise that the band would need a bigger venue from here on out. They finished the initial set with Szjerdene’s sexy and syrupy “Transits” and a rowdy “Cirrus” that left the energy in the room seething. As the band returned to the stage, they re-introduced Szjerdene and went right into “Pieces,” another new track off The North Borders. I gotta’ admit I would’ve loved to have heard this one sung by Cornelia, as it is on the album. The band’s rendition was a little more raucous, and Szjerdene a little less serene in her vocal delivery. Either way, it’s such a cool tune that I wasn’t even upset they didn’t encore with one of my old favorites. They then transitioned into the skip and twisting intro of another new one, “Know You.” I hadn’t listened too closely to this song yet, but it really stuck with me after watching the band play it live. Simon went off, wailing on his drum pad with his drum sticks while the intertwining male and female vocal samples repeated,”You know I do,” over heavy jungle bass beats. Atop the balcony, I watched as the sold out venue experienced that ecstasy found from moving in time to a song heard live for the first time. That is something you can expect from a Bonobo show, in addition to the familiar tunes ingrained into your heart, Simon Green is always hard at work translating his newest productions to the dance floor.
3. Towers (with Szjerdene)
4. Stay the Same (with Szjerdene)
8. First Fires (with Szjerdene)
9. Heaven for the Sinner (with Szjerdene)
10. Nitelight (with Szjerdene)
12. We Could Forever
13. El Toro (including sax-drum battle)
14. The Keeper (with Szjerdene)
15. Transits (with Szjerdene)
17. Pieces (with Szjerdene)
18. Know You
Check out the new official video for Bonobo’s “First Fires” (Feat. Grey Reverend)
*** Bonobo The North Borders Tour (Full LIVE Band) ***
:: APRIL 2013 ::
30: Commodore, Vancouver SOLD OUT
:: MAY 2013 ::
01: The Market, Seattle SOLD OUT
02: Crystal Ballroom, Portland TICKETS
03: The Warfield, San Francisco SOLD OUT
04: Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles SOLD OUT
05: The El Rey, Los Angeles SOLD OUT
06: Belly Up, Solana Beach SOLD OUT
09: Emo’s East, Austin TICKETS
10: House of Blues, Dallas TICKETS
11: Tipitina’s, New Orleans TICKETS