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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Royal Festival Hall, London, June 16th 2009
One of the many upsides of having to spend quite a lot of time in a car driving around Scotland is that you hear some fantastic programmes on the radio. A little while ago, I was captivated by a documentary called Beat Mining and the Vinyl Hoover, put together by photographer and broadcaster Toby Amies and which opened the lid on the world of crate diggers. This potentially highly lucrative pastime involves tracking down samples that might, just might, be worth a fortune to producers and artists. Part of the fascination of the show was the extent of the hidden sub-culture that it revealed (some of the crate diggers’ blogs were aghast at just how much of their secret world was brought to light). But it was also enlightening to understand just how important sampling has become to contemporary genres of music: it’s travelled a long way since David Byrne and Eno experimented with the technique on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1981. When we saw Byrne earlier in the year, he joked that it had been made in an age of innocence compared with today, explaining that for legal reasons, he would have to sing the sampled vocal himself on ‘Help me somebody’. Amies’ programme began to suggest just what a murky world it had become. And it’s not surprising. Moby sold nine million copies of 1999’s Play, a record built around samples from Alan Lomax’s field work in the southern states of the USA in the 1920s. Moby
I’m sure Moby paid his dues (he’s notable for giving much of his dosh away to charity), and sure enough artists like Bessie Jones, a sample from whom provides the background to ‘Honey’, get an acknowledgement as a licensed artist, along with Boy Blue’s recording of Joe Lee’s Rock (‘Find my baby’) , and Bill Landford (and the Landfordaires) for ‘Run on’. But while there is a general thanks to the Lomaxes, there’s not a mention of poor old Vera Hall, whose sampled lyric from ‘Trouble so hard’ provided the backbone to ‘Natural blues’, one of the big hits for the album. In addition, I’m not sure that the Lomax family or Vera Hall, or the other original performers, received much by way of royalties when the songs were re-used in numerous TV adverts for brands such as Calvin Klein and American Express. Moby woudn’t have got far without them. ‘Natural blues’ is one of the centrepieces in this second of 2009’s Meltdown concerts at the Southbank Centre, curated by Ornette Coleman. ‘Honey’ was the lengthy coda to the set. Other songs from Play, ‘Why does my heart feel so bad’ and ‘Porcelain’ were two of the more impressive pieces of the evening. The latter of these earned a similarly frenetic audience response, particularly from the over-excited guys in front of us; then came Moby’s first breakthrough hit, the David Lynch-inspired ‘Go’, appearing to transform the RFH into a disco under the arches on Brighton sea-front (I swear all that was missing was Dave Broom). Strange, you might think, for this first night of an extensive European tour ostensibly aimed at promoting Moby’s new album, Wait for Me.
He did present five songs from the new work, including opener ‘Walk with me’, a blues sung by the imposing Joy Malcolm, who also sang the sampled parts from Play herself - no samples in use tonight. Malcolm was joined on vocals by the more delicate Kelli Scarr, who sang (among others) new tracks ‘Pale Horses’ and ‘JLFT’. The latter was introduced by Mr M with the strange boast that it was inspired "by the vast majority of my friends in New York, who have all been heroin addicts". For much of this time, Moby chose to concentrate on guitar, where he showed a surprising mastery of power chords, which when combined with the amplified string trio, occasionally produced a wall of sound that even Phil Spector must have heard from his prison cell in Corcoran, California.   Moby
He occasionally took the coveted RFH Steinway (“how could I have a piano the size of a small car in my small New York apartment?”) and even sang; brave, given the relative weakness and tunelessness of his voice. Only once did he really hit the synthesiser for ‘Go’, and even then, no sooner cranked up than he chose to move over to play the congas with abandon instead. So it was an odd and eclectic set of the rather laid-bare and perhaps self-indulgent new material rubbing shoulders with highlights of the old, with little doubt as to where the audience’s heart lay. We even had a couple of covers: Joy Division’s ‘New dawn fades’, and ‘Helpless’ which was wrongly attributed to CSN&Y, rather than simply Y. Despite all this, the audience would probably have been happier, not to mention more exhausted, if he’d played ‘Go’ all night.
Oh yes. For the record, Mr Coleman, who had personally called Moby and invited him to perform in the series of concerts, didn’t manage to show up on stage, as some of us (including Moby apparently) had rather hoped he might. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Moby on MySpace

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