Orbital 560, Vancouver, BC, September 26
Published Sep 27, 2012As smoke machines blanketed the venue, the Worf-sampling "Time Becomes" started its Reich-ian phasing, and eventually Orbital (aka British brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll) emerged from the fog to take the stage. Transitioning into "One Big Moment" from Wonky, their new album and first in eight years, and then into their live reworking of set staple "Halcyon + On + On," with a dash of Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" thrown in for flavour, the Hartnolls took the sweaty club back to where it all started and into the future at the same time.
Wearing their trademark Maglite glasses, which give the duo a mad scientist mystique as they feverishly twiddle knobs, the pair didn't present a single track straight. For example, their treatment of "Doctor?" this evening began with a sluggish, downtempo intro, elevating to electro before a dubstep breakdown, and then hard and heavy with banging techno, leaving only certain elements of the original intact.
As the minor technical difficulty at the beginning of "Halcyon + On + On" attested, Orbital perform live, unlike the deadmau5s of the electronic world. This allows them to employ a fantastic amount of improvisation into their sets, feeding off the crowd and re-envisioning their entire catalogue, old and new. Sure, mixed fairly equally with material from Wonky, Orbital played all the classics, but they made them modern while still maintaining a sense of the original innocence and excitement born in warehouses from Chicago to Manchester in the late '80s, when the duo began and most of the crowd of engaged, mature ravers were in their prime.
The brothers Hartnoll weren't just referencing the passion of days gone by. This is no nostalgia cash-grab reunion tour. Whenever the brothers weren't knobbin' it, they were throwing index fingers in the air and grooving on their own tunes, mimicking melodies and air-drumming beats, their pearly whites often beaming out from under their goggles. This genuine enthusiasm was more than reciprocated by the crowd, who danced like it was 1989, cheered wildly during breaks, and broke out into sporadic whistle fits, their energy condensed by a last-minute venue change from the cavernous Vogue to the intimate 560. Brilliant.