Bonobo at First Avenue, 7/8/14

Categories: Last Night

Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Tuesday, July 8, 2014

As the curtain rose, and the bass knocked through the First Avenue mainroom, a sheet of light and fog materialized in front of the sold-out crowd. It seemed almost supernatural, like a signal of an approaching god. As Bonobo's kit was lit from below, the audience reacted as if Simon Greene, the multi-talented electronic artist from England, was a deity in the flesh.

The reaction of some in the audience would suggest otherwise, but Bonobo and his live band did not produce miracles onstage, and his enthusiastic followers were often distracted. The crew that sold out the Sydney Opera House earlier in their worldwide tour did not disappoint. The performance was unfailingly creative and occasionally approached the divine -- though they were sometimes brought down to earth. His combination of the intricate looping song structure of electronic music with the energy and life of live instrumentation made for a night that never failed to be interesting.

See also:
Slideshow: Bonobo electrifies at First Avenue

Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
After a long and tense buildup, Bonobo, alone on stage, launched into "Cirrus," one of the signature songs from his new album. It was an archetypical track, starting with a simple sequence of ringing thumb piano notes that eventually, and seamlessly, formed the foundation of a much larger and more complex groove. As the sound built, the rest of the band took the stage, starting with the drummer, Jack Baker, who was a dominant force throughout the night. Baker and his kick drum underpinned the danceable groove of the song in its live arrangement, which was more complicated, high energy and dissonant than it is on the record. Bonobo on the drum pad played well off of his analog counterpart.

Greene picked up a bass guitar after he set up the synth loops for the next track, "Sapphire." It showcased another element of Bonobo's sound -- delicate vocal samples and twinkling instrumentals laid over driving drum and bass rhythms. Unfortunately, this was an element that occasionally struggled with the transfer to live performance. The understated sounds and the melancholy affect took a back seat to the beat of the song. Particularly, the clarinet was swallowed up in this one, not that anyone in the crowd seemed to mind.

Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

The final piece of the puzzle was introduced next, on "Towers," as Szjerdene took the stage, a vision in white. Her ethereal stage presence added a human element to the spacey atmosphere of the band. Unfortunately, her delicate and subtle voice was, at least in this track, also secondary to the foundation of the song. It didn't help that she was fighting through a bad case of laryngitis that kept her out of the encore. However, when she performed "First Fires" later in the set, Szjerdene was able to be the star that she is, standing out over a dialed back and relaxed arrangement mostly made up of keyboard tones. This mournful song about regaining something thought to be lost forever came during a subdued portion of the set, and there was more than a little restless chatter in the crowd -- hopefully, they were listening anyway.

That kind of disconnection from the audience happened a couple of times, mostly during the more minimalist moments of the show. In a way, it's understandable -- listening to Bonobo's albums, its hard to imagine his looping compositions, which often change gradually over the course of an entire song and lack the dynamic "drops" of other electronic based music (thank God), providing that much to latch onto at a live show. However, the live band and the light show, along with the live arrangements for maximum energy, more than overcame this most of the time.

Location Info


First Avenue

701 1st Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Music

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