Moby, Royal Festival Hall, London

It doesn't make the heart leap

Reviewed,Toby Green@greentoby
Saturday 15 March 2014 03:50

When Play, Moby's sixth album, went on to sell 10 million copies and became the first record to have all of its tracks licensed for use either in adverts or for film and TV, the result was that for a while you couldn't escape the bald New Yorker. Moby himself has now gone to admit that he isn't the biggest fan of the record that made his name, telling Anthem magazine recently: "I don't like [Play] that much". So it must be rather disconcerting that it is these songs that his fans still can't get enough of.

Knowing this, you would hope that he would take this popularity, and build on it live, shaking the crowd out of their comfort zone while providing their old favourites in a new light. You would especially hope for some experimentation given that this performance is part of the week-long Meltdown festival, which this year is being curated by the jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.

At the start of the gig, it seems as if this is what we'll get, with just Moby and his guitar on stage, accompanied only by vocalist Joy Malcolm who provides an astounding vocal display on "Walk with Me". Unfortunately, they play the following "Find My Baby" predictably safely, and – despite Moby's best efforts to inject some excitement by kicking his amp – people politely nod their heads.

The only true moments of spontaneity and excitement come from Malcolm and her fantastic gospel voice. Her live performances of the original samples give these tired songs, such as "Porcelain" and "Natural Blues", a new dimension, but it is still not enough to create any frisson in the band. Moby himself seems to realise that he's being upstaged yet he seems more than happy to let her take the plaudits.

Moby also has a new album, Wait for Me, which is being released at the end of the month. On tonight's evidence it seems to be a rather downbeat affair. When someone sits at a grand piano and says they're going to sing a ballad about heroin addicts, it never exactly makes your heart leap.

The memorable moments, once again, come from the vocals, which for the new tracks are mainly provided by Kelli Scarr. She has a strong voice, but is only really let loose on the cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Helpless".

All in all, it is a pretty uninspiring night. The audience may get what they want, but you can't help thinking that Moby could have taken a few more risks with his winning formula.

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