At any given moment,
hundreds of thousands of aspiring musicians are sitting in front of their
computers or multitrack cassette decks, crafting personal and idiosyncratic
sounds that no one outside their bedrooms or basements is ever likely to
phenomenal success of his multiplatinum breakthrough "Play," which sold 10
million copies worldwide after its release in 1999, Moby still makes
intensely personal and idiosyncratic music in his bedroom, and he still
seems surprised and gleeful onstage when people respond to it.
The former Richard
Melville Hall of Darien, Conn., brought an impressive five-piece band to the
Riviera Theatre Saturday night, touring in support of "Hotel." The new album
is as strong as any he's released, though it's being savaged by many
reviewers in America (it's getting a better reception overseas) and has so
far failed to crack the Billboard Top 20.
It's beginning to look
as if "Play" was both a blessing and a curse for Moby. Its singles were so
ubiquitous on so many different radio formats -- and on the soundtracks of
so many commercials and films -- that reviewers and some portion of the
public seem to have suffered permanent Moby overdose.
But Moby has never been
cool, not even during the 15-minute window in the early '90s when he was
hailed as "the face of techno." Back then, his embrace of the straight-edge
lifestyle and core Christian beliefs alienated hedonistic rave-scene
hipsters as thoroughly as his relentless peddling of "Play" alienated snobby
tastemakers in recent years. And his unapologetic geekiness has always been
part of his appeal.
Taking the stage at the
Riv wearing a PETA T-shirt, Moby reveled in nerd-dom, at one point indulging
in a guitar duel with friend and bandmate Daron Murphy that came complete
with spot-on Eddie Van Halen hammer-on's. In between, he made an effective
two-hour argument for a catalog that is one of the most impressive of the
last two decades, delivering one infectious pop gem after another with
little regard for restrictive genre boundaries.
Before launching into
his inspired cover of "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" by Boston's
mid-'80s art-punk heroes Mission of Burma, the artist noted that he's
"eternally grateful" for an audience that gives him the freedom to dabble in
punk rock, quiet ballads, old-school disco and pounding rave anthems.
Moby delivered all of
that and more, and "Hotel" provided many of the evening's high points. These
included the melancholy heartbreak of "Raining Again," the giddy pop of
"Beautiful" (which Moby introduced as a slap at "dim-witted celebrity
couples"), the sing-along David Bowie tribute "Spiders" and a show-stopping
rendition of New Order's "Temptation" delivered by his new accomplice, the
powerful soprano diva Laura Dawn.
Dawn's live vocals
replaced the celebrated samples of blues field recordings in many of the
hits from "Play," underscoring that the strength of tunes such as
"Porcelain" and "Honey" was always in Moby's understated but infectious
keyboard melodies. And Dawn made a fine substitute for Gwen Stefani in the
joyous "South Side," which Moby said was inspired by his many visits to
Chicago and his love for its vibrant house scene.
The two-hour set was
completed with songs from 2002's underrated "18" -- including "We Are All
Made of Stars," another geek milestone inspired by quantum physics -- as
well as signature tracks from Moby's early career, including the
still-undeniable rave anthem, "Go." Through it all, Moby was as frenetic but
charming as ever, and his band was as adept at mixing sweaty live
instrumentation with digital backing tracks as any I've ever seen.
It may not be cool to
like Moby in 2005. But to the sold-out crowd at the Riv -- an encouraging
mix of young indie music lovers, longtime Moby fans, and forty- and
fiftysomethings who fell in love with the haunting soundscapes of "Play" --
it could not have mattered less.