Moby : Area:2 Festival: Toronto Molson Ampitheater

Area Three might not be quite so pretty

Last year Moby was at the top of his electronically chart-crushing crossover game when he helped put together the continent-crossing Area One Festival. The bald one’s small stature notwithstanding, ‘Play”s ambient blues easily dwarfed the likes of support bands Incubus and Outkast and left stadiums across North America swaying to a brace of car adverts.

Now, back again with another album and Area Two, Moby has a much steeper rock mountain to climb. Newie ’18’ isn’t soundtracking as many waterbirths and dinner parties as his last record did and the techno egghead has set the bar a whole lot higher with his choice of warm-up act: support this time around is none other than The Thin White And Actually Aging Rather Gracefully Thanks Duke. The former Richard Melville Hall’s decision to play with Bowie is an odd one. Motivated obviously by his status as a fan, it also means that by the time Moby arrives onstage, most of the audience has drifted away after a vintage turn from Bowie. Things aren’t helped by the fact that, initially at least, Moby just doesn’t have as much wind in his sails as a year ago.

As his backing cast (bass, keyboardist, cello player, two violins, a drummer, congas and DJ) walk onto a smoke-saturated stage, the anti-Slim Shady ambles out wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend ‘Ghetto Soul Dog’ and kicks straight off with the lascivious ‘Extreme Ways’. Running around at tartrazine pace, for someone who’s spent much of his life drug-free, he’s certainly restless. During a frenetic rendition of hoary rave classic ‘Go’, he repeatedly makes a sprinted circuit of the not-inconsiderably-sized stage, bellowing ‘Go!’ into the ears of his aggrieved-looking bandmates. When he’s not playing the congas in sync with a similarly slap-headed percussionist, he’s leaning out over the mostly Bowie-affiliated crowd. They respond deliriously by, er, nodding their heads slightly. Then he interrupts a rousing ‘Porcelain’ by shouting “merci merci merci” until his gratitude starts to grate. In a set full of troughs and devoid of too many peaks, ‘Another Woman’ falls surprisingly flat, as does an unnaturally sluggish ‘Natural Blues’, during which Moby attempts some lacklustre harmonizing as the song unravels into an ugly stadium Stones-style aerobo-rock workout.

The supposedly humourous portions of the set fare little better. See Moby put on an afro wig! See him indulge in a hamfisted DJ battle with turntablist RJ! “I’m going to embarrass myself like other white artists like Marky Mark and Gerado!” he says before scratching a little during ‘Jam For The Ladies’. Yes, yes you are. Stop it.

Thankfully – and it takes a hellishly long time – the last third of the 80 minute set atones for all the previous miscues and scrapes perfection, mainly because Moby decides to play it straight. Even sans Gwen, ‘South Side’ works great live and is a lovely building block for ‘We Are All Made Of Stars’. With a thousand tiny lights as the backdrop, the tune takes on a bold orchestral rock tone reminiscent of the Manics ‘Design For Life’. ‘Bodyrock’ keeps the momentum going but it’s the ninety-second encore of Ramones classic ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ that really causes untrammeled frenzy and allows the little man with the big wallet to escape with his reputation intact. Just. Area Three might not be quite so pretty.

Jason MacNeil