The darkness inside of the Billboard tonight is bright with anticipation as we wait to welcome back Orbital to Australia with their new music, new show and their new lease on performing live. The sets of twin torches floating through the air could not have come sooner; indeed, Phil and Paul Hartnoll are on stage almost ten minutes before their allocated time of 9.30pm.
The audio crackles, “There is the theory of the Moebius, a twist in fabric of space where time becomes a loop. Loop where time becomes a. A loop where time becomes. Becomes a loop where time. Time becomes a loop where. Where time becomes a loop…”
The stage is awash with white light as the brothers exclaim a warm hello and jump straight into it, mashing their classic Star-Trek sound bite with the opening track, “One Big Moment” from new album, Wonky. The crowd becomes completely washed with heady emotion as the two dance music pioneers bob in time to their own creations.
“Halcyon” is played early on, lasting for eons before Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” can be heard – pulled off without any eighties cheesiness, if you can believe. Orbital’s sturdy A-frame stage structure still holds banks upon banks of equipment with Phil (comfortably bare-foot) appearing to do a large portion of the mixing and manhandling of their 303 acid machine, while Paul arranges and controls their modular synths.
We hear more new songs – including “Never”, “Straight Sun” and “Stringy Acid” – however, there were a few noticeable oversights from the set list. Both “New France”, the first single from the new album and “Walk Now” are absent, the latter inspired when Paul fell in love with the sound of Australia’s pedestrian crossings, recorded it and added some didgeridoo. Also, the classic “Satan”(although the 21st century update of “Satan” is played; dubstep-laden “Beelzebub” sends the already-throbbing crowd into a seismic pulsation).
The diamond-shaped video screens display their less-is-more graphics, a particular highlight being the little aliens waving semaphore flags during “Are We Here” with a recurring chorus of The Carpenters’ “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”, while the light show enveloped the entire venue in swathes of colour.
We become slimy green creatures for the pleasantly surprising inclusion of the night, “Belfast”. The achingly beautiful vocals soar over the luscious beats and there’s barely a dry eye in the house as Phil and Paul raise their hands in unison; the crowd responds immediately. “Wonky” proves a favourite of the night, as the men behind the desk turn into manic deep sea cave divers with their bobbing torch lights, as the punters bathe in cool shades of blue floods and lasers. They build numerous, glitchy climaxes as Lady Lashurr’s vocals frantically thrash the ears before the popular electro-house track culminates.
The audience screams and stamps the loudest this reviewer has heard in a long while for the encore. Orbital don’t make us wait for long and we hear the familiar opening of “Chime”. The reaction is unforgettable.
Paul said recently in an interview with Tone Deaf, “There’s a really positive energy to playing live and that’s always been one of our strongest attributes and what we love doing as well. “ The love and peace that flows through the room is undeniably palpable; we’re all friends here and the Hartnoll brothers could never be accused of presenting their fans with, ‘Here’s something we prepared earlier’, pushing the play button and stepping back from the desk”. Tonight’s show was an experience that modern day electronic musicians should all witness and learn from the very best in the business.
Though it was a short visit – only visiting Sydney and Brisbane after Melbourne – the Hartnoll brothers have promised on numerous occasions how soon they’ll be back… maybe even by summertime. Fans can only hope the high that lasts from tonight’s show will last them the rest of the year.
– Anne-Louise Hill