Washington's most famous musical export, Thievery Corporation, brought finesse to the funk Thursday night at the Fillmore.
Since 1995, Eric Hilton and Rob Garza - D.C. bar-owners-turned-sartorially correct-electronic-musicians/programmers - have made a most settled, manicured brand of funky rumpus. They create a stew of samba, soul, dub, Indian, Brasiliana, and other dance music in their brand of mutant disco. Cool and collected, the always suave Thievery Corporation make Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music look and sound like slobs. Heck, they even had a divan on stage as a resting place for a sitar.
Hilton, Garza, and company (on Thursday, eight instrumentalists, plus six singers, and rappers) made the crowd palpitate, but never themselves seemed to break a sweat beneath their fitted clothing. Starting with the calmly jittering swirl of "Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes" and the watery "Take My Soul," T-Corp brought propulsive rhythm to chilly, ethereal ambience and blissed-out blues with vocalists Natalia Clavier and Loulou Ghelichkhani bringing gentle textures to the large ensemble's simmering mix.
Things heated to a boil when the outfit turned on the hard charm and turned out a buoyant blend of darkly atmospheric dub and dancehall on "Overstand" and "Radio Retaliation," with stabbing horn charts. Rapper-toasters Sleepy Wonder and Mr. Lif barked and growled out lyrics of liberation and empowerment. Reggae was Thievery Corporation's sweet spot, as numbers such as "Amerimacka" wallowed in echo-heavy ska sounds. Even a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Fire on the Mountain" was given the sinsemilla-scented reggae treatment.
There was a bit of a lull and a dose of the dulls when the outfit approached the tired, trip-hopping "33 Degrees," the psychedelic "Depth of My Soul," and several dips into bossa nova that were neither boss nor particularly starry. It wasn't the slow pace that was the problem. The Blaxploitative balladry of "Le Monde" was sumptuous and gorgeous in a most moving manner. These tunes just dragged. That said, the one-two punch of "Lebanese Blonde" and its Bollywood bop, then the soft dancehall of "Richest Man in Babylon" was an elegant way to end a sweat-free evening.