London’s Morcheeba first garnered Stateside attention with a passel of songs that earned the band a reputation as one of trip-hop’s most seminal acts. But like many genre pioneers, the members quickly grew to resent that pigeonhole, often skipping from one style to the next in an attempt to be all things to all people.
That scattershot approach affected this sold-out perf to some extent, but — thanks in large part to the supple playing of the hired-hand rhythm section (Scott Firth and Martin Carling) — there was enough thread to unite the material into a cohesive whole.
At its best, Morcheeba exudes a warm, relaxed air that, while certainly laid back, manages to excite. That came through most clearly on resonant renditions of “Part of the Process” and “Big Calm.” Singer Skye Edwards contributed quite a bit to the vibe of the latter song by requesting the donation of “something illegal to smoke.” When an audience member produced exactly that, Edwards took a deep drag from the spliff, then held it up for each of her bandmates to sample.
When it drifted into quiet-storm territory, the band managed to summon up little more than a wan drizzle. Attempts to conquer the heavier end of the sonic spectrum were similarly sketchy, with guitarist Ross Godfrey — who delivered stellar riffing for much of the set — flying off the rails by cleaving “Be Yourself” with a florid, Doors-ish solo.
While they had to do without the currently jailed Slick Rick (whose tongue-twisting microphone antics make “Women Lose Weight” one of the choicest cuts on the band’s new Reprise album, “Charango”), Morcheeba did call upon a brace of guests to spice up the set.
Kurt Wagner, the leader of alt country big band Lambchop, sauntered onstage to duet with Edwards on “What New York Couples Fight About” — a martini-dry ballad redolent of Lee Hazlewood’s pairings with Nancy Sinatra. Outsidaz’s main man, Pace Won, lent an entirely rougher edge to the new album’s title track, which bounced along on a deep low-rider bass groove.