Melody Maker | Live | 11 December 1993
Brixton Academy, London
Some of my friends are still arguing about the last time The Orb played Brixton Academy. Back then, those who'd taken a chemical aperitif were outraged by the band's almost completely ambient doodlings, while those who'd opted for the old Bob Hope couldn't work out what the fuss was all about. Nor, in one particularly sad case, how to find their way home for four days. Silly me.
The first 30 minutes of tonight's set boasts lots of keyboard swirls and colly-wobbling hums. There are snatches of the Lord's Prayer and the soundtrack to "A Clockwork Orange". There is not, however, any semblance of a groove. So much for my expectation of a pure dance blast to whitewash the mood of the last Academy show. Still, I'd have been disappointed if I'd been right. One of the qualities I admire most in The Orb is their unpredictability.
The turning point is "Little Fluffy Clouds". The drums sound like clog dancing elephants. As with everything else tonight, it's a musical sleight of hand, a radical departure from all the various recorded versions – even the one on The Orb's recent live album. Alex Paterson and Thrash enjoy nothing more than ripping apart their own blueprints, but they should really do the same to the paper star spinning beside them. It looks like something Lesley Judd knocked up for the "Blue Peter" Christmas tree.
Although the opening two or three tracks are played in near darkness, the light show is in full effect by the time the group reach the quasi-industrial drone that is vaguely reconisable as "Spanish Castles". The giant globe hanging at the back of the stage becomes a throbbing kaleidoscope of colours and patterns while searchlights sweep over the crowd. "Spanish Castles", by the way, starts with a two-minute Jew's harp solo. Self-indulgent? Abso-fucking-lutely. The best bands always are.
With the help of a live bass and percussion players, "Perpetual Dawn" and "Star 6, 7, 8, 9" are dense and deranged reggae stomps. Lump-a-long-a-Alex. The Orb might have supplied the matches for the ambient dub shakedown, but their interests are a lot wider than most of the outfits they've inspired and influenced over the last couple of years, as the volatile cocktail of Arabic voices and cheesy organ riffs in "Outlands" proves. This is true world music – from Marrakesh to Memphis to Manchester.
As The Orb journey further into the fourth dimension, several people in the audience enter the fifth. To my left, a girl who is jostled for the third time in as many minutes bellows, "Get to a fucking hospital, you lunatic!". From my right, comes the sound of someone snoring like a pig with flu. I doubt if even Miss Marple could fathom out how this chap manages to sleep through the positively punishing "Pulsating Brain".
The set closes with the grand "Towers Of Dub" and the special guest appearance of Otto the Barbarian. Unfortunately, Otto is initially only interested in shagging Alex Paterson's leg. The randy Jack Russell does give a deft performance when he's held up to a microphone, though. No matter that Alex has to tickle him to make him bark. Otto sure as shit beats a live didgeridoo player. Whatever next, eh? An actual clog dancing elephant? Well, funnily enough...