Bonobo. Photo: Andrew de Francessco
After careening down 200 South in the near blackness and a pair of extremely baggy cotton pants (which I jimmy-rigged to my legs), I rolled my Specialized up to the lock station at Urban as El Ten Eleven was beginning their sound check. My mustachioed friend and I picked up two Sierra Nevadas and wedged our way past a group of unfortunately short females and directly to the front of the crowd.
Bonobo’s tour bus had been sitting outside of Urban since at least 10:30 that morning and the stage was already decked for his set, so I readily assumed that it took all day to build his performance space. Consequently, El Ten Eleven was performing on the floor in the dancing zone in front of the stage. A plethora of loop and effects pedals, as well as three different guitars, circumscribed Kristian Dunn’s standing room as he stuck an inordinate amount of chordage into amplifiers and electric instruments. Tim Fogarty had hauled a rather large drum set onto the floor, bedizened with a kit and two snares dressed in processing mics.
One second of eye-contact between Dunn and Fogarty and the set was underway. For a two-man band (or any band for that matter), the two gentlemen manufactured an astonishingly buxom gush of experimental ambient rock. Dunn began the set on a double-neck guitar. The top neck featured a classic 20-some-odd fretter and the bottom neck was a bass. Dunn swiped his curly locks from his eyes and threw his body over his axe like he was protecting it from blast shrapnel and fingered out two separate riffs on each neck. Fogarty bounced like a neon banana ticking out dance beats on a snare and cymbal combination. One of my favorite things about their set was how easily they metamorphosed into completely different time signatures without disrupting the flow of their capabilities.
Both performers are incredibly interactive with their setups. Fogarty switches between acoustic and electronic drums in nearly every number, and Dunn is kept busy by toe tapping his loop pedals and transitioning between another double-neck guitar and a fret-less bass. All of their music (which seriously sounds like a giant band is playing it) is created for you as it is being played.
During the final number, Fogarty jumped from behind his drums and nearly on top of me, bounced around the front of the crowd and ended up on his knees in front of Dunn. Get your mind out of the gutter, the end of this anecdote is much more charming than the set up makes it seem. The lights flashed a deep red and Fogarty took his drum-sticks to the bass bridge of Dunn’s guitar. Dunn ambidextrously played two riffs at once on separate necks (this happened often throughout the set) and Fogarty tapped out a funky sounding bass-line. Two minutes of jamming and flashing lights later and El Ten Eleven’s set concluded with a “thank you” and wave from both laborers. With such an incredible opening act, I could nary imagine how the remainder of the show would turn out.
After a heated debate on the patio about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism, I sauntered back inside. I think I may have been one of the last people who fit back in the building, because I could walk comfortably about four feet inside the door and from where I was standing, couldn’t see the bar. At that very moment, Simon Green snuck onto stage and the lights cut out.
With a heavy click, the smooth sounds of Bonobo filtered through the musky crowd. Ten vertical panels with thousands of tiny LEDs panned a wave of light across Green’s back and the faces of his onlookers. With each new section in the song, another performer would enter the stage, wave amicably, and pick up their respective instrument. By the time the first song was over, an entire band was on stage playing acoustic and electric harmonies over Green’s mixing. When the first number came to a close, Green introduced himself and his accomplices and explained that he would be playing a mix of numbers, but that most of them would be off his newest album, The North Borders. I just recently received a copy of this album in all of its down-tempo splendor and was incredibly excited to hear it all re-created live.
A third round of beers in hand and I was lubed up just enough to swing my hair into my drink and not care. A lovely woman wearing a brown maxi dress slid gracefully onto the stage in the front and draped her hands over the microphone. I looked a bit closer and realized that it was actually Szjerdene, a vocalist Green collaborated with on The North Borders, in the flesh! The familiar tick-tick of the electronic drums on “Towers” were supplemented with intense acoustic drums as she twirled fluidly around the stage and waved her arms as if she were underwater. Her voice sounded even better live than on the album.
With the entire six-piece band overlaying Green’s DJ skills, the sound was almost overwhelming (in a good way). I couldn’t hear what anyone around me was saying and was glad for it. The music had taken over Urban and transformed the space into a universe that melded under Green’s touch. After performances of “Kiara” and “Kong” from Black Sands, Green donned his bass. He played through a few more melodies this way, including “Sapphire” (my personal favorite from the new album), as members of the band exited and entered the stage according to what instruments were needed for the specific song being performed. By this time I was squished against the ropes on stage left so every time a performer left the stage, I reached my clammy hand out and without a second thought, every one of them gave me a rigorous high-five.
Number after number pounded my eardrums as the panels of LEDs flashed and flowed patterns of translucent luminescence. The smooth, almost tribal aspect of the music had me flourishing my appendages similar to Szjerdene and rotating in slow motion, space provided. Both a flutist and saxophonist performed numbers from beautiful numbers while Green was “relaxing” momentarily off-stage. I enjoyed that Green took a visual back seat while on stage and allowed the touring group to have the majority of focus up stage from him. Even more so, I was impressed, and have been impressed since I found out, that he re-makes all of his music live on a mixing board instead of being a lazy-ass and pressing a space bar on his computer while letting his music play and flopping around behind a desk.
When Green and his posse exited the stage (leaving the lights off, of course, signaling that they were just teasing) the crowd went goddamn wild. Fists pumping in the air in a symbol of defiance, nearly everyone present began screaming like a pack of wild coyotes. The entire six-piece band returned for an encore. For a general disapprover of encores, I was impressed by the quickness with which they re-entered, the extensive remixes of the two songs they played, and the energy with which they bopped back and forth. When the entire show came to a close and the lights flicked back on, the room was still packed so full that it took more than 10 minutes to reach the door from approximately 30 feet away. I was sad the set was over, but excited for the bon-fire ahead of me. A half an hour later a bartender from the venue contacted my friend and let him know they had found my phone, which I had lost earlier in the night. At that moment the evening became perfect. Thank god for Urban Lounge and the prodigious artists they have perform in their space.
Check out our interview with Bonobo here.