Thievery Corporation at the Carlu (444 Yonge), Wednesday (May 18), 9 pm. $35-$40. 19+. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The first thing you notice about Thievery Corporation's new disc, The Cosmic Game (ESL/Beggars), is the dramatic rhythmic shift. It's obvious that Corp chieftains Rob Garza's and Eric Hilton's frequent record-buying expeditions to Toronto's Cosmos Records for rare grooves have inspired a move from their conventional downtempo breakbeat thump toward more sophisticated African and Brazilian progressions.
The other big change from the regular program is the presence of celebrity guest vocalists, namely Perry Farrell, Wayne Coyne and David Byrne, who each wrote the lyrics they sang over backing tracks created specifical-ly for them.
It seems an awfully elaborate scheme to give Hilton and Garza an opportunity to hang out with their favourite rock stars, but apparently The Cosmic Game wasn't initially planned as a high-concept celebrity collabo session. It just worked out that way.
"Working with guest vocalists is something that Rob and I had been talking about. It was just a matter of timing," explains Hilton from a tour stop in Portland, Oregon. "And really, up until recently, we simply weren't confident enough to call up someone like Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips and ask them to participate in one of our recordings.
"We'd supply the artists with the instrumental backing tracks and ask them for their creative input. Then we just let them do what they do. They wrote their parts and sang them and then sent that to us by courier or e-mail, and then we'd dress up the tracks the way we liked and complete the production. We didn't spend any time in the studio with them at all."
The album's highlight is the Afrobeat-style stormer The Heart's A Lonely Hunter, which also happens to be the best thing David Byrne has done since his Talking Heads days.
BBC Radio 1 personality Gilles Peterson has featured it on his new Gilles Peterson In Africa (Ether) comp, and a bangin' remix by Louie Vega of Masters at Work is currently doing dance-floor damage. Thievery Corp could have a hit on their hands.
"We'd spent a little time with David before, so there was a prior relationship. He came to see us in DC once about eight years ago to check us out before we did a remix for him, and since then we've seen him at a couple of his shows in New York.
"Since the Talking Heads flirted with African grooves, we thought an Afrobeat track would be appropriate for David, and I really like what he came up with. Louie did a wonderful job on the remix. David knows Louie from his work with Los Amigos Invisibles, so they went into the studio together. I think David played some guitar and added some vocal parts, too. It all worked out really well."