Thursday, November 12, 2009

Orbital, Live at Manchester Academy, 18/09/2009

Orbital returned to gigging this year and amidst all of the bug-eyed excitement over the setlist, I quietly noted that it wasn't all that different than what they were playing over the last few years of their career (including the often wretched "Doctor" as an encore), plus, no tracks from "Snivilisation" and the worst track from "Middle of Nowhere" does not add up to my dream anything.

And of course, then I heard a live recording.

Reading the track list doesn't do the gig justice ... it doesn't capture the four minutes of "The Mobius" that gets dropped into the middle of "Out There Somewhere", or how "Lush" is repeatedly peppered with snippets from the still-arresting "Lush (Euro-Tunnel Disaster '94), or the way "Chime" also cycles through a bunch of different versions, or how "The Box" gets yanked out of mothballs and segues its way into "Doctor", which sounds like a disastrous transition on paper but works brilliantly because of how they tame most of the latter track's innate silliness. Orbital are BACK, and they've tweaked the old formulas just enough so that it actually feels like a near-complete reinvention ...

What's more, the timing of their comeback is fitting -- now that the minimal fad has receded and big, melodic anthems have picked up in popularity, Orbital's music feels more contemporary and relevant than at any time in the past ten years. After their "Orbital II"/"Snivilisation"/"In Sides" run, almost any follow-up album would have to be viewed as a disappointment, but ten years removed from that context, it's a lot easier to hear "Middle of Nowhere" as a stand-alone work and to recognize how brilliant and forward-thinking it is. At the time, I felt that the album peaked during the first minute of "Way Out", from that moment on, they said goodbye to the sweeping cinematic scenery that made "In Sides" so magical, and settled into being just another techno act. Well, I was wrong -- "Middle Of Nowhere" is a complex work, packed with more bleepy hooks than should be legally allowed, and "Nothing Left" is by far their most underrated single.

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