Reinventing the whale

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The Independent Culture

MEET MOBY; a Christian, non drug-taking, tee-total, vegetarian environmentalist. Hardly a recipe for a wild night-out, is it? But, principalled as he is, this shaven-headed New Yorker (born Richard Melville-Hall - geddit?) has made a career out of attaining the seemingly unattainable.

MEET MOBY; a Christian, non drug-taking, tee-total, vegetarian environmentalist. Hardly a recipe for a wild night-out, is it? But, principalled as he is, this shaven-headed New Yorker (born Richard Melville-Hall - geddit?) has made a career out of attaining the seemingly unattainable.

In the early Nineties, after a spell in the hardcore outfit the Vatican Commandos, Moby did an about-turn and made a techno record. The Twin Peaks-sampling "Go" is now heralded as one of the decade's great rave anthems. In 1997 he had what is becoming known as a Tricky moment and went back to his thrash metal days. OK, so it wasn't particularly good but it kept us all guessing.

Scotching rumours that he was about to write a country and western album, this year's effort, Play, sees him revisiting his dance days, smoothing off the abrasive edges with warm soul and hip-hop. True to form, it is like nothing else you'll have heard all decade.

Live, the versatility that has so far informed Moby's career is presented in condensed form. He emerges with a live band as well as the requisite techno gadgetry, and chatters to the audience throughout (a faux-pas in dance circles, don't you know?).

It's as though Moby has reached the crossroads of the celestial highway. His heavenly aspect sees the stage bathed in an orange glow, with songs such as "Feel So Real" and "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?". But the road to hell transforms him into a lunatic, a diminutive Rollins, letting slip guttural growls, and blinking maniacally into the strobe.

But Moby has also found a Third Way: folk. The crowd, who had just been carving mathematical shapes out of air as if they were dancing in a warehouse circa 1989, are treated to an acoustic version of "Feel So Real". It is a brave and brilliant touch, as uplifting as any of those standard hands-in the-air anthems. "Natural Blues" is given the same treatment and, as an invading member of the audience is dragged off the stage, Moby remarks: "That's the first time anyone's tried to stage dive to an acoustic version of an old gospel song."

Well excuse me, Mr Moby, but isn't this the first time that a hardcore techno anthem has been given a Dylan-style folk make-over?

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