Area: One at the Tweeter Center


July 27, 2001


During a summer concert season in which commerce has often triumphed over art, dance giant Moby struck an encouraging blow for the music on Wednesday when his traveling daylong Area: One festival pulled into the Tweeter Center.

Area: One was not immune to the current plagues of steep ticket prices and ubiquitous sponsorships. But for once, concertgoers actually got their money's worth, and the corporations were smart enough to hang back a bit instead of beating us over the head with their messages. Even better, Area: One bulldozed through the absurdly narrow genre boundaries characterizing festivals such as Warped, Ozzfest and the late Lilith Fair, evoking the heyday of Lollapalooza in uniting fans of techno, hip-hop and alternative rock.

If there was a totally hackneyed moment of music all day, I never heard it. Kicking things off on the mainstage, Canadian singer Nelly Furtado reinvented herself with a new band, providing a jarring contrast to her show at the Park West in March. Then, she was backed by a combo that overemphasized the world-beat cafe elements of her debut album, "Whoa Nelly!"

On Wednesday, Furtado may have swung a bit too far in the trip-hop direction at the expense of her delicate vocals. But the energy fit the setting. Furtado desperately craves stardom, but it's hard to resent her for it, since she's more deserving than many young divas. Her ebullient personality is clearly infectious--she resurfaced twice later in the day, doing a song with the Roots and bettering Gwen Stefani's part on Moby's hit single, "South Side."

Propelled by the massive backbeat of drummer and producer Ahmir "?uestlove'' Thompson, Philadelphia's Roots underscored once more why it is the greatest live band in the history of hip-hop.

A few hours later, Outkast took a different approach. The sonic variety of the Atlanta duo's albums was missed in concert (my idea of musical nirvana--the Roots backing Outkast's Dre and Big Boi with live instrumentation). But the DJ created a Funkadelic-like party groove, and three backing singers helped the MCs add to the festive atmosphere without resorting to the cliched "left side/right side" chants that dominate live hip-hop.

Slotted between those acts, Incubus strengthened its rep as the most musically inventive band in the otherwise dismal nu-metal genre. The angst-ridden bellow of frontman Brandon Boyd is so over the top, it makes Eddie Vedder seem like Bobby McFerrin. But when he steps back to grab a hand drum and add African polyrhythms to the group's grinding assault, the music is gripping.

Timed so that fans could catch some of every performer, the format allowed some of the leading lights of techno to simultaneously hold forth in a giant, air-conditioned, trippily lit rave tent in the parking lot. Expert self-promoter Paul Oakenfold was the biggest draw. While his grooves were nowhere near as sophisticated as those of Detroit innovator Juan Atkins or Manchester's Carl Cox, his melodies were fat and juicy, and he certainly kept the adrenaline pumping--even if the soft-core girlie videos augmenting his set contradicted the traditional non-predatory, asexual vibe inherent to most raves.

Call me old school, but my highlight in the tent was psychedelic wizard the Orb. As always, the good doctor Alex Patterson amused while he entranced, slipping cowboy ditties and the theme to "Monty Python's Flying Circus" into his ambient house mix.

Ending this encouraging day back on the mainstage, Moby delivered the ultra-high-energy show that he's been honing for a decade now, an act that was ready for the arenas before he even played Metro. Joking with the crowd in his delightfully self-deprecating manner, Moby unleashed faux-Metallica riffs simply because he was thrilled to be standing in front of 20,000 people with a guitar.

Backed by a potent nine-piece band that included two live drummers and a three-piece string section, Moby alternated the transcendent pop gems from his breakthrough album "Play" with older techno classics in a galvanizing 90-minute set. Can musical diversity onstage and an open-minded spirit of community in the audience exist in the Disneyesque atmosphere of the new millennial arena-rock scene? Before Wednesday, I'd have said, "No way." Now I'll admit I was wrong.

Yes, the experience would have been cooler in a field in Wisconsin, a la the legendary Furthur raves of a few years back. But Moby might have done something more valuable by showing a better way to do things at places like the Tweeter Center. The gauntlet has been thrown down. From here on, the big-bucks arena concert will be measured against Area: One, and music lovers should settle for nothing less.