Ever since the first instance I became aware of the music created by British DJ and producer Simon Green, aka Bonobo, so did my confusion concerning how to pronounce his name. Through countless hours of observation, I’ve found there are two popular choices: Baw-nah-bo and Buh-NO-bo. Yet, in the end, it really doesn’t matter which pronunciation you decide upon. I just mentioned it because writer’s block forced me to write an anecdote to start this review… There it is. Now, I can start.
April 30 was a productive day: two job interviews, an afternoon spent browsing used book and record stores, and a concert at The Commodore to cap it off. It was sunny too. A cloudless sky. Not even a little wispy one in the bottom corner. Pure blue sky. As if someone took a giant squeegee and wiped it from one end to the other. I couldn’t help but be consumed by optimistic thoughts.
All of a sudden, it’s dark and I need to strut down to the venue. A queue has already wrapped itself around and out of the fence. A passerby makes his way towards me and stops a few inches from my face. The smell of stale beer crawls up my nose and down my throat.
“Who’s playing tonight?” he asks.
At that moment his eyes became glazed and his eyebrows pulled skyward. “Ooohhh… he plays the dubsteps, right?”
No, he does not play “the dubsteps”. Bonobo’s newest album, Northern Borders, includes instruments ranging from strings to woodwinds and lots in between. Yet, even with all these instruments, I was unaware that his set would be performed by a live band. So, you can imagine my surprise (and excitement) as I walked onto the dance floor to find a drum kit and several guitar stands along with a laptop placed in the middle on a tower.
I decided that Bonobo’s show would be a good opportunity to have a beer and lean on a post or something relaxing. Still stay close to the action, but allow myself the chance to retreat if necessary. “Take it easy tonight, Thomas,” I told myself. That option soon disintegrated as the drummer began to kick a pulse. A light display hanging in the back was beating at the same rate as the bass. Boom. Boom. Boom. The vibrations shook the ground, then my whole body. As the drummer kicked, the band came out one by one. Guitar, bass, synthesizer, flute and saxophone players filled the stage. Finally, Simon Green appeared from stage right strapped with a guitar and was greeted with screams. This was a Tuesday night, but the atmosphere was suited for a Saturday. Clouds of smoke billowed out of pockets in the crowd, forcing Green to say ,“You’re one of the best looking… and smelling crowds I’ve ever played for.”
Songs from Bonobo’s Black Sands and the recently released Northern Borders were a large percentage of the set. Yet, as good as those albums are, the most memorable moment for me didn’t involve Green. Instead, it was a drum solo that pulled my own eyebrows skyward; a drum solo that kept going until I thought his arms might tear at the shoulders. The saxophone player chimed in as soon as the drum solo finished. He performed a chaotic solo that also merited stretched eyebrows. My eyebrows were starting to feel strained. I didn’t care. There were some incredible musicians onstage and the prospect of a sore forehead the next day didn’t bother me. Then, as if they hadn’t done enough, the two soloists formed a duet, feeding off one another’s energy. Both of them exchanging notes, like they were speaking to each other. That type of energy spreads across a crowd instantaneously. Let’s just say, it had been a while since I had stopped leaning on a post. For this display, I needed to be standing with both arms in the air.
Another great part of the concert was the sexy black singer. She came on and off the stage when vocals were required, which wasn’t that often, but she was very popular nonetheless. A skin-tight, glittery gold dress, and a voice oozing honey. A talented beauty that served as the cherry on top to a wonderful concert. Bass beats that moved everyone in the venue were balanced by moments of softness. Meditative music that caused the crowd to sway instead of bounce. Even with the vocal aspect, it was balanced. Simon Green is the mastermind behind Bonobo, but all these musicians deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their musical abilities. Once I flew down the stairs and reached the busy sidewalk, I had to look at the ground and say it aloud: “Damn, now that was a concert.”