Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Show review: Bonobo at the Riviera, 10/18/13

By Sarah Rosenfeld

Bonobo, the stage name of British producer and DJ Simon Green, gave a delightfully diverse and energetic performance on Friday, October 18 at The Riv of what can best be described as live band electronic music steeped in the improvised excitement of a classic jazz lounge. Listening to some Bonobo tracks before the show, I wasn't quite sure what I was walking into at The Riv, and the crowd in attendance gave me nothing to go on.  It was one of the most diverse crowds I've ever seen at a show in Chicago. I knew there was going to be a great light show because there were signs up at The Riv warning about the use of strobes. However, it became clear immediately that Bonobo is an experience and brings so much more to the live shows that what you hear on the album. This was no dumbed down DJ set.
Bringing together live instruments (drums, flute, horns, the soulful voice of singer Bajka) mixed together effortlessly with alternating heavy bass and brilliantly soothing beats and bells, Bonobo had everyone around me dancing. This was not a stand and nod your head show. This was a feel the music and dance like it's your birthday show (it actually was my friend's birthday). Although at their best when Bonobo was frothing up the dance floor with heavy synth drops and pounding basslines, there were also easy transitions into the downtempo, more lyric heavy tunes that felt like a quick chill out session for the audience. I realized the jazz connection as each instrument was given the spotlight and I heard the most danceable drum solo I've ever experienced live. Each musician played what appeared to be an improvised solo spots for the audience just as you might hear at a jazz club. Singer Bajika thanked Green on "bass and buttons" after a particularly lengthy solo where he played live bass and tapped out synthy beats on his laptop at the same time.

I love going to shows where I'm not entirely familiar with the headliner. With Bonobo, I was prepared for a unexpected experience and I was definitely not let down. This show was the perfect way to start the weekend with creatively layered and danceable electronic music in one of Chicago's classic venues without a single dubsteppy womp to be heard. When the lights came up, I was left wanting to dance all night and that's exactly the way a 15 year electronic music veteran should make his audience feel.

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