When you get right down to it, i don't understand electronic music. Oh sure, i enjoy some of it, and my appreciation for audio collage with driving beats goes deeper than any other minion, but when i go to see one of these artists perform, i am always left wondering what is going on. You see, with a rock band there is a clear deliniation of where the music is coming from. With this show, there were a few guys standing around a bunch of gear. Sure, there was lots of sound, and if you watched they were flipping records and twiddling knobs, but it's just not the same effect.
Which makes it hard for me to evaluate the performance aspect of this type of concert. The artists seemed removed from the performance by the sheer bulk of the technology on which their performance is based. With a guitar, i can see the chording and the strumming style, and i can infer a certain amount of emotionality. With a guy flipping records, it seems somehow sterile. Also, a guitarist is much more mobile in his activity on stage -- a DJ is kind of stuck behind his table.
So i dunno what to think. On a subconscious level, i always fear that an electronic
artist might be "cheating" me. That is, since their music comes
out of machinery anyway, they could just play their album or
some premade remix, and stand around looking busy while
the machine does the work. A guitarist can't really fake it
in the same way.
And that really explains the weakness of this type of music for me. Oh sure, i think that The Orb make brilliant music, but i just wonder what the heck is going on on stage. Maybe it's my lack of understanding of the art of being a DJ combined with my rudimentary understanding of playing the guitar that makes me trust a guitarist more than a DJ. Maybe.
I guess it's really not important. I just want to say that my evaluation of this show is not based on any sense of "great performing" because i have no clue how the performance actually happened. All that i can do is explain the music that i heard.
And that music was quite nice. It was a night of really good dub.
I got to The Masquerade at around 11 PM. LX Patterson was bouncing around behind the DJ table spinning a mix of old reggae with the frenetic breakbeats those young kids like so much these days. It really didn't do much for me, being a non-dancer, although the music wasn't bad. It wasn't drum n bass -- there was actual melody occuring.
Apparently LX began DJing at 10 pm. Wierd. I guess they wanted to move the show along. What i find most interesting is that, in this manner, Patterson was his own opening act. You see, he is also the DJ and main composer in The Orb. I find it odd that he chose to open the night by DJing knowing that he would be back onstage shortly to perform again. But on the other hand, being your own opener must surely keep tour costs down. And as i said, the music wasn't bad, it just wasn't my thing.
After about 30 minutes of this reggae/dance music, another DJ took over on the computer gear at the other end of the stage and LX wandered off to thunderous applause from the growing crowd. The projections on the screens behind the gear began flashing "Witchman", which is how i knew that the second opener had taken the stage. This is another thing that confuses me about electronic artists. With a band there is a clear differentiation of acts -- one takes down gear, another sets up. Sure, the delay can sometimes be annoying, but it provides a clear indicator of what is going on. Here, i had to infer what was happening. Slightly confusing.
Witchman's music blended well between the dance reggae of Patterson's set and the anticipated deep dub of The Orb. His music is bass heavy, with light breakbeats and neat samples overtop. The highlight of his set came about halfway through, with a song that started off with a good head-bopping deep bass riff. The kind of riff that, when pumped through a big club sound system, makes the hairs on your arm stand up. After a bit, a slow breakbeat chimed in, creating a nice low groove. Over this Witchman played a melancholy harmonica piece. The juxtaposition between a simple rural instrument like the harmonica with the jamaican bass riffs and the ultra-urban beats created a real moment of beauty in the club. I just stood and listened. Well done.
The rest of his set was similar, but Witchman did not touch my soul through his music again that night. That's okay -- that one moment was so unexpected that it won my respect. I have never heard of this artist before, but now i will be watching for him.
Witchman tweaked knobs for about an hour, then left to respectful applause. The club's sound system poured out reggae numbers for a bit, and the crowd packed the floor waiting for The Orb.
And we didn't have to wait long. Not having to set up any additional gear meant that the band could take the stage as soon as the crowd's anticipation had built to a peak level. Apparently that took about 30 minutes.
The Orb started off with a nice long ambient "overture" to their set. Samples flew by over droning synths -- distinctive samples from the songs that they would perform. The rooster crowing from Little Fluffy Clouds. The dog bark from Towers Of Dub. Etc. That was a nice effect, and with each successive recognizable sample, the crowd's energy built further and further.
They flowed into a mix of Asylum, and then something unexpected happened -- a guy came on stage and picked up a bass guitar. He conferred with Patterson and his partner, and then started hammering out the bass riffs to U.F.Orb. The crowd exploded and the beats started (a harder mix of U.F.Orb than i had heard before) and the show kicked in to full swing.
Since The Orb's music is based on simple repetitive dub bass riffs, having somebody play those riffs live seems both natural and a really nice effect. It provided something for indie rockers like me to grasp onto (look -- he's playing nothing but a G chord for all of Towers Of Dub!) and added an element of realness and immediacy to the show.
Not to say that it went flawlessly -- there were times when Patterson would drop a record, notice the bass wasn't there, and whirl around to look at the bassist, who would sheepishly pick up his part. That only happened twice, so i guess that they just haven't worked out all of the kinks. Still, having that live bass really made the show for me. Espeically Towers Of Dub, which is my favorite Orb song. The bass riffs really soared and the song sounded awesome in performance.
The bassist played about two thirds of the show -- through
the older Orb material. It seemed as if all of the stuff off
of the new album was done less dub, more dance for this performance.
Not how i interpreted the album, but then again they didn't
do the dub songs off of Cydonia.
I would have liked to hear that bassist thump out a nice long
version of Terminus, but oh well.
On the whole, i was impressed with this show. I might not have known what was happening up on the stage at all times, but the music was spectacular.