And lo, the geek shall inherit the earth. Something lost in the translation, because Moby wasn’t meant to be this big. Prior to this Radio One event at London’s Astoria he said: “In my mind, the Astoria for many years was too big for me to play there. I remember when I would come to London and I would drive by there and see that some big act was playing there and I would be so jealous.” After the release of Play, this size venue would be deemed small fry for him. A huge leap considering he started out in 1980 in a group called The Banned playing covers of the Clash and the Sex Pistols and didn’t become overly well known until he released “Go” in 1991.
After every song on Play was used at least once for different adverts on TV he became so ubiquitous, he was like the Will Smith of electronic music. Familiarity breeds contempt for some but Play sold 10 million copies, 40 times the amount that Moby expected it to. Nice work if you can get it and Moby has certainly paid his dues.
So tonight at the Astoria, Moby’s playing the kind of place he’s always wanted to play, and frankly 2,500 people is the perfect number for a Moby gig. You really want to be close enough to see this.
With the front of the stage extended into a catwalk and the inclusion of two ramps to a raised part of the stage and a backdrop of mountains, you would be forgiven for fearing that this could fall into something a bit tame and glitzy, something for those who came by taxi. Not a bit of it. When Moby runs on with a guitar, bouncing and spinning like a teenager in his room with a tennis racket you see his heart hasn’t strayed too far from his early influences.
Only two songs in he plays “Go” and it’s genuinely like 1991 never ended as 2,000 people and hands-in-air lovin’ it, lovin’ it, lovin’ it like people did back then. You can almost smell the Vicks Vapour Rub and then, as if he had been employed for purposes of authenticity, a strange man came up to your truly and asked if I wanted any pills.
Jumping about on stage Moby really does look like the tragic anti-hero from a’ 70s campus film. The kid that turns out to be far more balls-out party guy than the quiet vegan he’s portrayed as. There are certainly no Sting-like “let’s save the trees” speeches, and this is not one of those things where you just stare at a bloke playing records and pushing the odd button.
Done live Moby shouldn’t be exciting, but it’s done as live as it possible could be. With nine people on stage; three playing strings, a drummer, a percussionist, a DJ, a superb soul singer and a foxy vixen woman on guitar—as well as Moby himself playing instruments and singing/shouting—it’s occasionally like one of the most thrilling bands you’ve seen.
When he does play the music that dinner parties were made for, “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad” and “We’re All Made of Stars”, it’s there with genuine people doing it and it sounds—well sorry, old chap, but it sounds meatier. The strings have enough hairs-on-back-of-neck moments, and to see Moby on decks scratching one minute, thrashing about with guitars, playing keyboards with outstretched palms before hammering tall bongos in a kung-fu style is a Top-Cat-Grin thing to see. His version of the Bond Theme rawks in the way that Sum41 and the like would give their favourite baggy pants to do, even if he looks more like the crazy scientist than the rugged hero while the whole of his career is covered, with at least one song from each time period. The fact that tonight is being recorded for live broadcast by BBC Radio One’s soon-to-be-sadly-defunct Evening Session would have prompted others to play as much as they could from the new album, but Moby is not quite the cynical careerist that some have painted him out to be. He knows the difference from good advertising and a good show for a live audience.
The encore is just one and a half songs. First comes the first half of The Ramones’ “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” and then he grins and says, “someone said that nobody listens to techno no more ” and cue, pantomime booing from an Astoria crowd before ending with the 1994 song “Feeling So Real” and it’s cider-in the park and Luck-Strike-cigarettes memories for most of the people here.
He mostly listened to English bands growing up and a lot of the people here in London grew up listening to Moby, either through choice early on or by watching the TV during the late ‘90s. Sure, when he returns to London for the 20,000 capacity Wembley Arena gig, it’ll be blighted by the size and lose some of the genuine party feel. But tonight this was loud, energetic stuff. While his public image might be of Walter the Softie next to Eminem’s Dennis the Menace, he is actually far more like Professor Frink from the Simpsons, possessed by Wayne Kramer from the MC5. Now you know you just have to see that live, don’t you?