Orbital, Manchester Academy, 5 April 2012

Warning, warning, nuclear attack!

THERE is a theory about comebacks, a twist in the fabric of space, where time becomes a loop. Band retires, band runs out of money, band re-forms to relive past glories for cash on a short-lived comeback tour. Rinse and repeat.

So it was perhaps understandable that some fans greeted Orbital’s 2009 comeback after a five-year hiatus with a touch of cynicism. At that point they were only able to play a greatest hits set, albeit one with a significantly beefed-up sound. And as welcome as that return of the much-loved electronica duo was, those sets never fully captured the true excitement of the glory days (although in fairness they did come close).

Three years on and how times have changed. With a well-received new album (Wonky) freshly released, the Hartnoll brothers came to a packed Manchester Academy to kick off a six-date UK tour.

The first noticeable thing before Orbital even came on was how many more 20somethings there were in the crowd than in 2009. Any sense that they would remain a nostalgia act for chin-stroking 40somethings was already kicked well out of touch.

None of the traditional trappings of an Orbital gig were absent, of course. Those familiar sturdy A-frames holding banks of equipment, the “Time becomes…” loops heralding the start of the set and, naturally, the brothers bounding on stage with their trademark head torches. There was even a traditional “oops” moment as a sample was accidentally triggered before they even started – a comically wonky reminder that Orbital sets are truly live and improvised. Unlike some electronic acts, the Hartnolls could never be accused of just pressing the “Play” button on a pre-arranged set.

At this point, you could normally predict that they would dive straight into an old classic like Lush or Remind. But no, the 2,300-capacity crowd was blasted with One Big Moment – the opening track of Wonky – while state-of-the-art digital graphics replaced the old back-projected visuals of yesteryear.

Calling occupants of interplanetary craftNot that Orbital forgot to “bring on the Bon Jovi” with all-time favourite Halcyon, looping it with Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, and most of the classics including Belfast, Sad But True, Impact The Earth Is Burning), the inevitable Chime and – one particular highlight – Are We Here with an audacious drop of The Carpenters’ Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft, featuring visuals of aliens waving semaphore flags.

Satan’s presence was felt in his updated dubstep-laden incarnation, Beelzedub, one of the strongest new tracks, although it was inevitably Wonky’s title track, featuring rapper Lady Leshurr and a smattering of electro-house and glitch with enormous build-ups, that whipped the crowd into the biggest frenzy of all. This track is already proving to be a real banger on dancefloors and looks set to become as huge a crossover hit for Orbital among new audiences as Galvanize was for the Chemical Brothers.

It’s difficult to find fault with this two-hour performance overall. While Orbital naturally stayed true to their roots and played many of the traditional crowd pleasers, there was an overwhelming sense of them pushing the envelope of electronic dance music at a level that they hadn’t really done since the turn of the century. Orbital are now properly back in the loop, regaining their reputation as one of the true innovators of the genre.

 

SETLIST:
Time Becomes
One Big Moment
Halcyon
Straight Sun
Sad But True
Beelzedub
Never
Belfast
Impact (The Earth is Burning)
Wonky
Are We Here?
Encore:
Stringy Acid
Chime/Crime
Where Is It Going?

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