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Moby at 9:30: Electronic Pop Without a Spark

By Joe Heim
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page C05

There was a crackling energy in the crowd during the buildup to Moby's sold-out show at the 9:30 club Thursday night. Conversation bubbled. Bodies pressed forward. Something truly special seemed about to happen.

It didn't.

Moby, here in New York, was bland at 9:30. (Diane Bondareff -- AP)

Instead, the show, which drew heavily from Moby's mostly comatose new album, "Hotel," was a hit-and-miss-and-miss-again affair that didn't generate much momentum until nearly an hour had crawled past. By then it almost seemed too late. At one point, the elfin electronic-pop star reminisced about a fabulous rave outside Washington in 1992 where everyone did wonderful drugs and danced all night long.

Perhaps they should have handed out some of those wonderful drugs at the door. Or at least a time-travel kit, because there is no real joy left in Mobyville (or soul, for that matter). It all seems to have been lost in his effort to become bigger than the music he has brought to the mainstream.

Leading a three-piece band, and with a great deal of help from able backup singer Laura Dawn, Moby trudged through much of the new material early, including "Raining Again" and a cover of New Order's "Temptation." He also played the extremely derivative "Spiders" as a "tribute and/or homage to one of my all-time heroes, David Bowie."

Part of what sucked the life out of the show was that Moby simply talks too much, and his dull between-song banter would put an ecstasy-fueled raver to sleep. He offered a long introduction to "Beautiful," explaining what it was about (banal celebrity love affairs) and adding that he liked it because it gave guitarist Daron Murphy a chance to "play a kick-[posterior] guitar solo." You almost expected a PowerPoint presentation: "Here, fans, are some aspects of the following song that will entertain you over the next five minutes."

The later the show went, the livelier the music became, perhaps because Moby returned to hits marked by defibrillating bass notes that rattle your fillings, shrieking guitars, looped sound effects and all-important clap-alongs. Songs such as "Honey," "Next Is the E" and "Bodyrock" brought to life a crowd that had previously shown as much movement as a line at the DMV.

For one of his encores, Moby chose to play a fairly straightforward version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," as a "celebration of degeneracy and debauchery." This show could have used much more of both.

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