The folks who have to market the few “faces” of the generally anonymous techno and ambient dance genres probably view Orb’s performances as a throwback to Fillmore light shows in the ’60s and Laserium in the mid-’70s. There’s no act to watch here, unless you consider leader Alex Paterson shaking his head to the beat on a dimly lit stage behind a bank of keyboards, and little chance of emotional connection between audience and band — or song.
The goal, for the diskeries, is to keep the druglike trance going — get the beat locked in and ship off the zombies to the local CD shop to purchase those names they know. Orb certainly makes good records; its show, however, lacks the imagination that has gone into the Brits’ four full-length discs.
The incongruous key elements of Orb’s music — the repetitious throb of techno and the sonic wallpaper known as ambient — hit a second level of disparateness in concert. The balanced forces of rhythm and moody melodies that make the new Island disc “Orbus Terrarum” such a captivating listen dissipated in live performance, and only the avalanche of sound that defines techno in its most generic sense worked. The more it pounds, the better it sounds.
The lengthy pieces, which don’t so much end as segue into another movement, sacrificed nuance in the name of multiplicity as softer solo passages came off as noodling rather than pensive breaks. When Orb developed its sound layer by layer, and increased the tempo ever so slightly, particularly on the satisfying “Towers of Dub,” the concert developed a sense of movement.
Much of the music inflicts order on naturally random sounds — chirping insects, footsteps on stairs, etc. — and pairs them with synthesized choral-like sweeps over standard dance and reggae beats. Show highlight “Montagne d’or (Der Gute Berg)” grew organically with a cascading keyboard line that sustained a continuum, not unlike a waterfall. It was a perfect entree to the craved trance state.
But for all of the combination of brilliant colors and nifty shapes splattered and shifting behind them, Orb never made a clear and focused point. The music blends together well enough but far too little stands out, particularly in comparison to the discs spun for two hours before the show by KCRW deejay Jason Bentley, who showed how great a range this music has.