Live Music + Gig Reviews

Moby @ Royal Festival Hall, London

16 June 2009

10 years ago Play turned Moby from techno geek into a global phenomenon whose tracks reached a unique level of ubiquity, being used everywhere from TV ads to Hollywood blockbusters to home improvement shows.

To date he has sold a staggering 20 million albums, a tally he hopes to add to with the imminent self-release of Wait For Me, an album he showcases tonight as part of Ornette Coleman‘s Meltdown festival.

Moby begins what is the first date of a new tour with, Walk With Me, a track from the new album, which has a sound and feel not a million miles away from his Play-era style, with the glamorous Joy Malcolm on vocals. The string section creates a dramatic impact for Extreme Ways before the meowing guitar and reverse instrumentation of Shot In The Back Of The Head, another new song, gets an airing. Kelli Scarr then performs a soulful and tender rendition of The Great Escape.

Moby returns to his rave roots by playing 1991 debut Go. He wanders over to his keyboard, presses a button and walks away as it generates all of the main synth parts while he hammers on the bongos. It’s still a great track and the crowd shoot out of their seats, much to Royal Festival Hall security guards’ chagrin, but this is one of the few glimpses we see of Moby’s uptempo alter ego.

Strangely, last year’s dance-heavy Last Night is completely overlooked as is the rest of his other more electronic, techno-tinged back catalogue. Instead the set is almost entirely made up of tracks from Play, 18, and the similarly downtempo new album. Old favourites like Natural Blues, Porcelain and We Are All Made Of Stars rub shoulders with latest offerings like the preacher-sampling Study War and Mistake, on which Moby takes the vocal lead, and the heartfelt, heroin addiction inspired ballad, JLTF, with its “All the time we spent doesn’t mean nothing” refrain.

A cover of Joy Division‘s New Dawn Fades creates a change of tone before Moby wanders over to the grand piano and says, “It’s not often I get the chance to play a piano the size of a small car!”, improvising an introduction that flows into Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad. The tempo does lift again for Raining Again, a track the New Yorker explains he liked Steve Agnello‘s trancey disco remix of so much that he and the band learned to play that version rather than the original. The crowd are again dancing in the aisles and – oh dear – being told off by security.

The encore begins with a well worked cover of Crosby Stills And Nash‘s, Helpless, featuring the powerful yet delicate vocals of Kelli Scarr, before the evening is rounded off by an extended version of Honey. Moby improvises with different solos, tempo changes and sections that almost flow into Led Zeppelin‘s Whole Lotta Love and Motorhead‘s Ace Of Spades but keep veering back to his own composition.

At one point, Moby admitted to nervousness as this was the first date of his tour and he would usually have the chance to warm up at smaller venues in smaller cities beforehand. He needn’t have worried as this was a well conceived, well received selection of old and new material. The main disappointment was that he largely chose to limit his trademark musical shapeshifting. Perhaps this was not the ideal setting for a full on dance set. All the same, the night was tinged by the feeling that this was a gig that showcased only part of Moby’s musical arsenal.

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