Georgian Theatre, Stockton: 25 May 2019
So, here we are at the new and improved Georgian Theatre in Stockton. The last time I was here was to see The Lancashire Hotpots, and things have certanly changed, from the purple and green lighting on the path coming into Green Dragon Yard, to the new glass frontage, the foyer, new bar space and the stage itself. It’s a really nice bit of work, and a really lovely, welcoming venue.
The show is badged as being as a “30th Anniversary Tour”, which reminds you that the origins of the Orb are back in the nascent rave culture that also gave us the likes of Orbital and the KLF. Each of them is almost totally unliike what a lot of that culture later became (po-faced, bland and commercialised); they were all quirkily individual, and all the more interesting for it; still worth listening to, even today.
So it proves tonight. The room is pretty full, though it is apparent that the age profile is mostly people in their forties and fifties who’ve been there since the outset, and others like me who weren’t but whose nerdish buttons were pushed by some of what they did at some point in the past (in my case, Toxygene was the hook). Given the attendance, it was a bit puzzling to rock up to the merch stand to grab a t-shirt, only to be told that the largest size available for a room rammed with slightly paunchy middle-aged men was XL. Oops! #merchfail
But no matter. The thing is, coming to a show like this on your own feels strange to me. Perhaps it’s those collective memories of standing in a field off your face on E that are causing me a little discomfort, because I never really bought into that at the time. Evenings like this are to be enjoyed collectively, as one of a mass. For that reason I feel oddly out of place, a slightly dissociated presence in a congregation, though the music and the visuals are actually pretty good. The slightly nostalgic feel is echoed during the show by the screen showing old footage and pics, flyers, tickets and backstage stuff. It feels srangely old-fashioned and slightly wistful. And maybe that’s what the room’s like: a bunch of people my age with jobs, mortgages and kids (lots of whom may have been across the river watching Miley Cyrus at Radio 1’s Big Weekend at roughly the same time), remembering what it was like to be their age again, just for a little while.
And that humour is still there, as the the bass is thumping so hard into your chest you can feel it shake, the projection in Towers of Dub shows the heaviest things know to man, with a black hole playing a distant second fiddle to the thing they’re playing. And the basslines have that mildly narcoleptic quality, a woozy trance-like feeling. Thse are not fleeting three minute gobs of pop, but extended rambles (in the best sense), little journeys through soundscapes, building on phrases, riffs and playing with them, interspersed with voices, noises, distant cries.
Jean-Michel Jarre has said repeatedly that electronc music is unlike what has gone before: rock and pop music is essentially performative-there’s a vert particular immediacy and energy in seeing someone dancing, or playing a guitar. Electronic music is different: someone standing at keyboard doesn’t necessarily make for an exciting evening, so the visual element of the performance has to engage you in a different way. That’s why those shows became so huge — to capture that “carnival” feeling of being there in a single moment, never to be repeated. Though the scale is different tonight, the point is the same: with shows like this, with video (mostly) synchronised to music(1), and lots of it sitting in a machine, that sense of spontaneity is difficult to reproduce sometimes. It doesn’t make the evening better, or worse, just different to those other kinds of music. They finish, almost inevitably, with Little Fluffy Clouds, and depart the stage to enthusiastic appreciation. In their field (off a junction of some anonymous A road or not any more), The Orb are still masters of their craft.
(1) one little moment aside, when it looked like the Mac doing the screen projection had a minor HDMI problem.