I’ve been an Orbital fan since the spring/summer of 1995, when, thinking their stuff was an off-shoot of The Orb‘s ambient techno. I bought the “Snivilisation” album and woooooah, it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s far more beat-driven than The Orb (at least, at the time) and much harsher in places. It took me a few listens, but then I was hooked. I bought all of the back catalogue, which was two full-length albums. The EPs were really tough to get in the States and if you did score them, the import prices were pretty outrageous.
Then came “In Sides” in 1996 – which was released as a double CD. The second disc was a combined release of the “Times Fly” and “Sad But True” EPs, themselves having hit the shelves in 1995. “In Sides” was sorta their prog-rock album – long tracks with some having multiple sections within the tracks. “The Middle Of Nowhere” followed in 1999 and “The Altogether” was released in 2001. By 2004, Orbital announced they were splitting up, after releasing the somewhat disappointing “Blue Album“. The split almost implied they would re-group at some point, but we fans were never sure.
The boys played a few reunion shows in the past couple of years and everything seemed to go well. They announced late in 2011 that they had returned to the studio and were making a brand-new record. They even posted video diaries of the progress of the recording. In April of this year, “Wonky” was dropped and most reviews have been very positive. To me, it’s an excellent album – maybe not quite reaching the dizzying heights of “The Brown Album” or “In Sides”, but for a couple of guys going on 25 years as a duo, it’s pretty damn good!
I never got to see them live – they never played Connecticut, not as far as I’m aware and it seemed to be too much effort to go to NYC or Boston. They closest they came was on the “Community Service” U.S. tour in summer 1999. They played the Palladium Theatre in Worcester, Mass in July of that year. I’ve found a live recording of the show since and I really wish I’d been to see it. Pixie spotted the notice on the Oxford O2 Academy website that Orbital were going to play there on their winter 2012 tour and asked if I wanted to go…
We arrived in time at the O2 Academy to catch support act Nathan Fake, who took up his spot stage left with a laptop and mixing console. His set consisted of around 45 minutes of pleasant enough Aphex Twin-ish electronica…all synth sweeps and fast beats. He bopped along to the beats and would occasionally reach over to the mixer and tweak the mix, making a snare-roll sound or adjust the speed. I don’t know the names of the tracks – but they all flowed one into another. The first ‘suite’ lasted about a half-hour and the second for roughly 15 to 20 minutes.
The Hartnoll brothers took the stage a bit later and if I may say so, played a blinder! They opted for “Time Becomes” as their walk-on..er…music, then ripped into an energized “One Big Moment” (which also opens ‘Wonky’). O.B.M. is fast becoming my fave tune on the new record – it’s a classic Orbital anthem. They then led into “Halcyon + On + On“. I’d have thought they would have saved this for later in the set, but nope – they forged ahead, even adding in the (now familiar) mix of Belinda Carlisle‘s “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and Bon Jovi‘s “You Give Love A Bad Name“. “Straight Sun” and “Distractions“, both from ‘Wonky’ followed, with the dazzling lights flashing and the back-projected videos providing an excellent visual accompaniment.
“Distractions” segued into my other fave new track, “Beelzedub“. It’s Orbital’s ‘dubstep’ tune – but for my money, beats out the young’uns at their own game. The vids showed various banker-types, George W. Bush, as the beats and synths were jacked up to punishing volume – the crowd surged along with the rhythms. “Never“, from ‘Wonky’ followed, leading into a surprise (and lovely) “Belfast“, all the way from Orbital first full-length, giving a bit of respite from the faster tunes and jackhammer rhythms.
Another highlight for me was “Impact” – one of my all-time fave Orbital tracks – it also gave a the boys a chance to crank the volume and get the bodies dancing! So good! The title track from the new album came next, with a recording of Lady Leshurr‘s vocals weaving it’s way through the demented synth riffs. An extended “Are We Here?“, from ‘Snivilisation’, followed, with Alison Goldfrapp‘s vocals in the mix. The best bit was toward the end of the tune, when they added a sample from The Carpenters‘ “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” in – it worked perfectly with the rhythm and they even had the ol’ ‘bouncing-ball-with-the-lyrics’ on the screen! Their re-working of the “Doctor Who” theme – a live staple for a long while now, closed the main set. It was good, but not necessarily a surprise and I would’ve preferred a track from “In Sides” or “The Middle Of Nowhere” instead.
Phil & Paul obliged the crowd with not one…but two encores!! The first was an excellent “Chime” (you knew they weren’t to going to skip that one). It’s comforting, somehow, to know that they still don’t mind trotting it out after all this time. The final tune of the night was the final track from ‘Wonky’, called “Where Is It Going?“. I admit that by then, I was tired from all the bopping around (especially during “Impact”) and the body heat from the crowd made me a bit woozy – so it was nice just to chill a bit and listen as the music drifted from the speakers. The house lights came up as the boys left the stage and off into the cold December night we went.
One Big Moment
Halcyon (incl. “Heaven Is A Place On Earth & “You Give Love A Bad Name”)
Impact (the earth is burning)
Are We Here? (incl. “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft”)
Encore 1: Chime
Encore 2: Where Is It Going?