Orbital in Atlanta, 10/5/2001.
Orbital decided to release it's sixth album in the states three months after it was released to the rest of the world. Who knows why, but I wouldn't be suprised if it was a decision made by their happy-go-lucky-drunk tour manager who couldn't decide what price a tee shirt should be in "bloody american money" or how much fine young Atlantean tail he should chase. So while British Orbital fans got to experience the less than satisfactory The Altogether in May, Americans had to wait for the release in late August.
However, Americans being the ingenious people they are, they just downloaded all the MP3s, and were disappointed along with the British at about the same time. However, because the European release was first, they had their European tour first. And while Americans were committing suicide because of lack of Orbital and the fear of imminent suckage, they got to see and hear Orbital's amazing live show. And while Orbital tried to make its ignored American fans feel better with a bonus cd full of B-sides, this was no In Sides bonus with "Satan," "Halcyon + On + On Live," and "The Box Extended Version." And after we had gotten nice and comfortable with the fact that the new album was a wash, they finally began their American tour.
No Halcyon would be played in this tour. In fact, only one of the Brown album tracks was played, "Impact." However, "Belfast" from the Green album was on the playlist for the first time in many years. Not even "Style" from the last album made an appearance. The set was comprised more or less of tracks from The Altogether. Maybe it was the scene, a small dance floor surrounded by stadium-style seats that rose high above the stage. Maybe it was the people, practically everyone went from frozen to motion in only a single song. Maybe it was Paul's and Phil's utter enthusiasm for the music and the moment.
No matter what, certain things became apparent: Orbital still could deliver the knock out to a dance floor, and The Altogether, which seemed like a unwieldly brick in their catalog became a fierce weapon in the hands of the Hartnoll brothers. The whole thing started with "Tension," a hyperactive piece that seems in sitting to be a slower overlayered song with too many samples but on the floor the beats miraculously doubled and it became the perfect song to smack the crowd into show without wasting any time. The David Gray assist from Illuminate became vocoded, something that would never fly with David Gray or Orbital fans, and it transformed the song into a crazy ode to the overvocoding in electronica and it made it dancable and lovable. The entire performance was capped the unlikable "Doctor?," a theme to the British Doctor Who Night on BBC which with a few beat changes somewhere in the structure, and you must forgive my memory as I had donated a lot of my braincells and 4-HTP to my muscles and the music, became a appropriate surrealistic finale that left the me wanting nothing more. Not even Halcyon, which is saying quite a bit.
From now on, if I listen to The Altogether it will not be from a seat, as I listen to the other albums. Orbital, known for their frequent and stupendous live shows may have metamorphosed into a group that exists to experience, not to please reviewers, wallflowers, or charts. While this may be giving the typical American the short end of the stick considering their quick and dirty tours of America, I really don't mind. They have trancended every stereotype in electronic music thus far, from one-hit-wonderdom to lack of dancability to lack of depth and meaning. At this point in their development, they seem to have imparted so much into their music that live shows are the only way of fully exploring it.