The Orb

•• The Orb @ The Coronet, London, 14 May 2004
•• Published: Logo magazine (now defunct), May 2004

The Orb have a lot to answer for. In the early 90's they took mellow, lazy electronic music, added some dub, sounds of birdsong, church bells and moon landings and a hefty dose of Pythonesque humour and created a monster known as chill out, or Ambient House as they used to call it.

It's been a long time since Dr Alex Patterson and his ever-changing collective of bandmates reached number one with the UFOrb album, 12 years in fact, but during that time the good doctor has maintained a steady, albeit patchy, stream of output and The Orb's influence on today's dance music scene can be seen and heard far and wide. Just look at Radio One's 'Blue Room' for starters.

Tonight the man who played chess on Top of the Pops (when performing 1992's Blue Room) is joined on stage by Simon Phillips and John Roome as they indulge in producing a rich audio soup. The wail of arabic chanting imposes itself in the mix, then fades in and out among the seeming hundreds of other sounds, samples and synth stabs, all underpinned with a marching industrial beat.

The next tune wafts in but you will certainly not find this on any chill out compilation. This is something entirely different. Hard techno plus the added edge of some sonic feedback makes the crowd move, shake and throw their arms in the air, the lights flicker and flash through their fingers and for a while the place looks like a scene from an early 90's warehouse rave. So much for the stereotypical tree-hugging trippy hippy tag the Orb are often saddled with.

Dr Alex seems to have learned from past mistakes and veers away from the drawn out, self indulgent yawnathon epics that threw the Orb off course and decimated their audience when they were at the height of their popularity, instead opting for a much tighter set of old classics and shorter, more focused fresh material.

Old favourite Outlands introduces itself with its huge dub basslines quaking the crowds boots and 'don't you bumble, just be humble' sample burrowing its way into the eardrums. As the twinkling melody loops round and round, the chunky bouncing rhythm keeps everyone dancing. Then it's time for another dip into the past for Little Fluffy Clouds, an ambient anthem if ever there was, kicking off with a much bigger beat than usual. The crowd whoop in approval as harmonica flits in and out of the mix and dawn chorus cockerels call.

A heart-melting moment of mellow uplifting loveliness is interrupted by the unexpected tones of everyone's favourite foul-mouthed rudeboy rap brat, Eminem. What the hell is going on? Proving the Orb's sense of humour is still intact, Eminem momentarily becomes an unlikely ambient superstar during a Without Me/Toxygene mash-up - and it works surprisingly well too.

As the helium tones of Minnie Ripperton's Lovin' You introduce the immense 'A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld', the crowd are bathed in white light, a choir and church bells merge into the tune as the beat drives on and the music spirals ever upwards giving things an uplifting, almost spiritual flavour - beautiful.

A minimal version of Assassin follows and pounds its way out of the speakers with clattering drums and some rumbling, body busting bass and then, all of a sudden it's over. The Orb leave the stage and that's that. The crowd stir a bit uncomfortably, a couple nervously shout for more but that seems to be it. Not the usual premeditated, staged encore just an abrupt end to a musical, visual spectacular.

The old material gets the best reception and is perhaps the strongest but Dr Alex and co. have tonight proved that they are still relevant and capable of putting on a jolly good live show that's more about dancing than spliffed out, horizontal snoozing. Where would today’s downtempo scene be without them?

- Ian Roullier, 05/2004
Copyright © Ian Roullier 2004-2014