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Moby Agitates the Waters

Hybrid, opening for Moby at the Warfield on Monday night, gave a long set of progressive trance (i.e., high-bpm techno with distinctive and flowing melodic lines, but no traces of dub or house-style lyrics). The group is British, two men on the synthesizers, one on a percussion cage, and bears comparison to Underworld, Robert Miles, and Eat Static, though they were better than the last in concert and (thankfully) aren't as prone to syrupy melodies as Miles. Few in the crowd were likely to know them, but they were able to get the floor moving nonetheless, and earned some fair applause. They certainly worked hard enough, producing line after line of s.ple, then setting each one off on its own, another piece in an increasingly grandiose edifice of techno. At times one sensed they were barely in control of the music they were building, a sign that a group is really pushing itself. I hope to see them in town again soon.

Hybrid's energy could not begin to compare to Moby's, however, which is as it should be. Accompanied by DJ Spin Dad as well as most of the musicians who helped him make Play, Moby began his set by running back and forth across the Warfield's stage. Over the course of the next two hours he hardly ever stopped, a whirling dervish who interrupted his frenzy only for an occasional lecture, some of which were as enjoyable as the music itself (come to think of it, no part of the concert got more applause than his minute-long plug for Al Gore and excoriation of GW). If nothing else, he was great to watch.

But of course there was a lot else, over twenty songs in fact, about a dozen of which were from the Play album. Of these, the most successful were "The Sky Is Broken," "Bodyrock" (which was introed by Moby on electric guitar, a very convincing imitation of an '80s Big Rock group), and especially "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" (as hot as it was, the vocals on that one gave me the chills) and a dance version of "Honey" which was s.ply house. A couple of the songs misfired: the talk-over for "Give me summer" was lost (frustratingly, Moby's mike was set too low throughout the concert) and "Run," which Moby soloed in his second encore set, was anticlimactic, but if you were there because of Play, you did not go home disappointed.

"That's When I Reach For My Revolver," "Go," a techno medley, and the traditional closing number (his notorious "Thousand," which he had played straight off the boards while standing alone and bare-chested in the center of the stage, the lightshow going manic around him; very effective), these and a couple of other numbers from Moby's earlier days saved the show from being a s.ple rehash of his most recent album, though none of the arrangements on these pieces was particularly noteworthy. Still, even when the group performed a song essentially as it had been recorded, the energy and professionalism of their work on stage held the audience.

Moby is the most frenetic performer I've seen since Rocket Morton (a little-known madman from the East Coast) and has put together a really excellent show: very tight, long but engrossing, and deeply satisfying. If you've heard his stuff you know he's a genius, but it's not until you see him in concert that you realize just how wide his talent is. He sang, played the keyboards, handled the bongos masterfully, and absolutely jammed on acoustic and electric guitar. And his version of Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee," a tribute to San Francisco, was a delightful surprise. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, Moby.