Moby hits Boston with new tunes and old favorites

A review of Moby at the House of Blues on September 24, 2009

, Staff Writer

If we’re being honest here, Moby really hit his peak with Play, released just over ten years ago. Since the album’s release, pretty much every song has worked its way into one commercial, television show, or movie, and most are immediately recognizable to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Play. In the ensuing decade, Moby has released four albums, all decent in their own right, but unable to have nearly the same staying power as his opus. His most recent release is this year’s Wait For Me, which Moby is currently touring in support of with the help of a live band for the first time since 2005. He dropped by the House of Blues this past Thursday, delivering a solid mix of both older favorites and newer material to a thoroughly sold-out venue.

Moby proved himself to be quite the instrumental dilettante, alternating freely between percussion, guitar, and piano. His guitar playing in particular has improved quite a bit in the past decade, based on his solo in “South Side.” Compared to the album’s cut, his tone has improved, his dexterity is up, and he seems to be directing his solos towards more of a melody than just random noodling. Kelli Scarr accompanied Moby on vocals quite frequently, which was a blessing, as his singing isn’t exactly his strongest suit. As you might expect, a number of songs from Play were performed throughout the evening, each to wild cheers from the audience. “Natural Blues” was executed impeccably, the band nailing the song’s groove right off the bat. The opening strings of “Porcelain” were instantly recognizable, Moby taking his position in front of a keyboard for that particular song.

One of the highlights of the evening came with the performance of “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad.” Instead of a more straightforward version, the tempo was slowed down, focus being brought on Moby’s piano playing and the fantastic singing by his accompanying vocalist. Her voice was powerful and soulful, really drawing out the vowels of the song, using the beat more as a suggestion than a rule, flowing freely through the song’s progression, yet arriving at the downbeat as she needed to. It was one of the more solemn moments of the concert, and a real showcase of some incredible vocal abilities.

Moby was fairly talkative in between songs, meekly approaching the microphone and asking quietly if everyone was having a good time. He played a brief tease of “Dirty Water”, just like every band who ever comes through Boston. I guess you gotta play to the crowd, though. He brought the usual fare of left-wing chatter, to a great amount of cheering from the audience, and also to be expected from the generally quite outspoken DJ. I usually don’t have much patience for audience banter, but Moby’s shy and earnest approach was endearing, and he didn’t stretch it out too long.

Wait For Me got a fair amount of playtime, as well. The introductory track, “Division”, played over the PA before Moby took the stage. “Walk With Me” was played, a nice change of pace from the danciness of most of the show. The song flowed along slowly as Scarr let her vocals do the heavy lifting. “Shot In the Back Of The Head” is the first single off the new album, and an enjoyable, solemn thing, heavy on the synth use. It’s a nicely relaxing tune, and probably the strongest track on Wait For Me.

He closed out with “Feeling So Real”, a 1994 cut that hearkened back to Moby’s days as a raver. Sharp synths and repeated vocals flew on top of a classic drum ‘n bass double-time rhythm. Everyone was dancing, and it was definitely a great way to close out the show.

While Moby may have reached his peak a long time ago, that doesn’t stop the songs from being any less enjoyable in 2009. Most of the audience seemed familiar with Play and “We Are All Made of Stars”, and had little knowledge of the rest of Moby’s body of work. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop the man from bringing out songs that weren’t so well-known by those in attendance. Though musically all of the non-Play tracks were a bit lacking, the overall set had a pretty decent trajection, mixing up dance-worthy tunes and slower jams well enough, and Moby seems like a nice enough guy that he won the crowd over pretty early on.

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