In the accelerated time frame of dance culture, the members of Orbital fall somewhere between grizzled veteran status and retirement home candidates. But the duo’s endurance, while distancing them from electronic music’s cutting edge, has allowed them to build an unusually varied repertoire — making for a more consistent, interesting live show than those offered by most of their peers.
The set at the Roseland Ballroom started off at peak energy level, with a furiously amped-up version of “Tension,” an intricately programmed tune that revolves around a sample of the garage-rock classic “Surfin’ Bird” (culled from a mid-’80s version by the Bananamen). Bopping around the darkened stage, wearing their now-traditional headgear — adorned with illuminated antennae to aid in the knob-twirling — the Hartnoll siblings quickly set a dark, yet celebratory, mood.
Since the pair’s live show is largely tape- and sequencer-driven (with a smattering of live percussion), Orbital relies heavily on video projections and offbeat stage settings to keep audience eyes focused. Flanked by revolving structures that split the difference between the “2001” monolith and an acidhead appropriation of an outsized Lego set, the stage was appropriately imposing.
Likewise, the films used alternated between the witty (a Pac-Man figure devouring parodies of well-known logos during the head-bobbing anthem “Oi!”) and the bleakly beautiful (the Eastern European landscapes that accompanied “The Girl With the Sun in Her Head”).
The brothers have long been known for wispy atmospherics –sounds that provided an ideal environment in the chill-out room, but drifted off a stage with all the staying power of a skywriter’s message. They slipped into that rarefied mode now and then –notably during the meandering “In Sides,” which conjured unpleasant memories of ghosts of Tangerine Dream past — but generally performed with far more energy than in days of yore.
Unlike many nonmainstream acts to hit the road in the past month, the Hartnolls didn’t pull any punches. The video programming still featured scads of unsettling, violent images, and their traditional centerpiece — the screaming, tenebrous “Satan” — maintained its place of honor at set’s end. In its own way, that’s every bit as reassuring as hearing yet another version of “God Bless America.”
Orbital plays the Hollywood Palladium on Oct. 25.