Sea of Dreams / Eclectic Fever
December 31, 2008
Review and Photos by Eric K. Arnold
Eighth and Brannan streets held it down all night. The San Francisco intersection, which bisects the Concourse and the Gift Center was the site of two -count 'em, two - of the livest NYE spigots. Both events, as it turned out, were global in significance.
First, Eclectic Fever. We started our quest there, at the Galleria, a massive venue with extremely high ceilings, a huge dance floor, plenty of walkways, and balcony views. We arrived just in time to see DJ Collage and a colleague turn up both the intensity and the heat, holding down the microphone with the ragamuffin business.
Walking up to the 4th floor balcony, we saw a line of bhangra dancers at the front of the crowd, as DJ Jeremiah spun world and Afrobeat. The dance-friendly crowd proved lively, and the overall flavor was like a multiculti carnival.
If Eclectic fever was a carnaval, Sea of Dreams was a spectacle. Held at the massive concourse, it was bigger, more outrageous, and almost completely over the top. A circus theme prevailed on its three stages (or "rings"), and there were plenty of PLUR-affirming clowns, harlequins, disco dolls, and just plain weird/alternative people. There were tons of people in costume, a big portion of those from the Burning Man community, who bigged up Black Rock and brought the playa vibe to Soma.
Almost everywhere you looked, something vibrant and colorful was going on - inflatable balloons, dancers with glow-in-the-dark hula hoops, random nearly-nekkid people, music and lights. It was easy to be enthralled by the overwhelmingness of it all, as the senses were bombarded with a visual and aural feast.
We got some drinks in the VIP lounge, then let the music guide us to the stage where Mutaytor was performing. Probably best described as a fusion of electronic music, hip-hop, and performance art, the band - assisted by dancers, acrobats, and some guy in a mechanic's uniform who swung across the stage on a rope which descended from the ceiling - had extremely high energy, a point not lost on the equally energetic (and possibly chemically-enhanced) crowd. Mutaytor was so compelling, it was easy to forget there were two other stages going off simultaneously.
Weaving through the crowd, we made our way to the main stage, where Thievery Corporation was playng their first NYE live show ever (according to co-founder Eric Hilton). Thievery in concert was somewhat like a global musical revue; Hilton hung in the back, playing keyboards, and the other TC principal, Rob Garza, strummed on a guitar, complemented by a drums, bass, percussion, additional guitar, and a constantly revolving bunch of vocalists.
The crowd was ecstatic as the shimmering textures of "A Beautiful Drug," a song off the new Thievery album Radio Retaliation, filled the air. The song is about being chemically-addicted to another person, and its lyrics are surprisingly deep: "Through the years/ Love radiates throughout/ Life's a charade/ Shines through everything/ That remains unsaid."
The highlight of Thievery's show was the one-two punch of "Richest Man in Babylon" - a conscious dancehall tune featuring reggae singers Notch and Sleepy Wonder - and "El Pueblo Unido," a Zapitista-inspired call for community awareness, beautifully voiced by a pair of Spanish-singing women. Somewhere in their set, 2009 came into being, but even that was almost overshadowed by the majesty of Thievery's performance. Fully surrounded by an audience that was theirs for the taking, in a venue where everything went, as long as it flowed, they left no doubt as to why they are one of the top-flight acts in all of music, having long ago transcended the limitations of the electronic music scene.
On our way out, we moved in the opposite direction, toward the exit. One last stage stood in our path; on it, Bassnectar was throwing down a riveting set against an artsy backdrop which evoked the sense of being in a techno-organic garden. People danced with abandon, like it was 1999 or 2009, but after a few hours of being in a feverish crowd, claustrophobia had set in. It was time to leave Sea of Dreams, and to make our dreams for the new year a reality.
Outside, the air had turned crisp as we trudged back up along 8th Street. The visceral intensity of the evening remained, only the music was no longer in front of us. It was in our heads.
Personal Bias: I once hung out in Washington D.C. at Thievery Corporation's club, Eigthteenth Street Lounge (which also happens to be the name of their label). It was cool.
Random Detail: Thievery's Rob Garza has one of the best goatees in the entertainment industry.
By the Way: Proceeds from Eclectic Fever benefited House of Hope, a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping African child victims of famine, war, poverty, and disease.