Review: Orbit Service at The Walnut Room, 11/12/11

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At the end of the Orbit Service set last night at the

Walnut Room

, Randall Frazier and his bandmates conferred after repeated requests for an encore, and performed the first song of the set again in order to get a better take of the song because, as Frazier told us, they didn't feel too good about the first take.

But what set the second take of "Drift," apart from the first, and much of the rest of the show, wasn't just the music, but VJ Dizy Pixl's flow of brilliant colors across the members of Orbit Service, so that each looked like he'd been painting glowing colors. The music was transporting and tripped out enough, but the visuals really gave the presentation a boost it enjoyed the rest of the show as well.

Before the show proper and between sets, Cozmos Mudwulf stitched together songs that sounded like anyone with a passable knowledge of industrial and experimental electronic music should know but might not like Ellen Alien as well as more recognizable material like a song from the new Skinny Puppy. Mudwulf's selections fit in perfectly with the tenor of the evening's music and served as the perfect way of transitioning between all the live music and setting the stage for what was to come.

This was the kind of show where in the case of each artist you can count the number of times you'll get to see them in a year, perhaps altogether, on one hand. Two at most. Brocken Spectre doesn't play live often and while the live electronics thing may not be as well appreciated by some people, what Lu Duran does is always interesting. If you pay attention, what superficially sounds like minimalist layers of electronic sound with some variation in the pacing and tones is really this guy changing up what he's playing, the textures he's using, the character of electronic percussion he employs and all other elements with each song. It's like one idea struck him and he wrote a song around it and then moved on to the next idea.

Yes, he used similar instrumentation but the sheer sweep of his aesthetic reach as an electronic music composer was on full display tonight. Or if not on full display, such a rich representation of evocative soundscaping is not seen in this kind of music often enough. At times it was reminiscent of early '80s Tangerine Dream and Frontline Assembly without the aggression and steeped in introspective melodies.

In Better Senses was a four-piece comprised of a guitarist who also played synth and triggered computer sequences and a little vocoder, a bassist, a drummer and a synth player who also used a laptop. Musically, it sounded not unlike Scenic but a little darker or even Trans Am but less obviously structured. A bit of Krautrock and post-rock mixed into the largely instrumental music gave it more of a drive than a lot of atmospheric music seems to include. Most striking, perhaps, is how perfectly balanced the instruments seemed in the mix without one dominating over the other. When one sound is prominent in one part of the song it never completely becomes the focus. Backed by what looked like a projection of pixelated fire on an old TV set, Orbit Service trickled in sounds at first along with noises like wind with a musical property underlying it to build a subtle yet nearly irresistibly hypnotic eddy and flow of sound. Electronic percussion set a drifting pace that seemed to count down the minutes until dawn from midnight while the mind mulls over dark memories.

"You were the lion in my tall grass," was a lyric that captured the sense of menace hidden from immediate view that coursed through a number of these songs. But the surreal ambiance of the music made it seem like a lucid dream and that you could witness these dangers and not be pulled into them if you choose not to.

All through the show, the songs calmed the mind and Dizy Pixl provided abstract as well as concrete imagery that added to the feeling of being inside someone else's dreams or a shared dream. Being there and draw into the music felt like what it felt like to read The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson minus the misguided romantic passages--all shadows and images alien and familiar caught up in a slow stream of emotions.

As the show went on, it seemed as though Orbit Service had considered a broad range of emotions and thoughts when writing the music and carved away the peripheral matter for a pure and poetic expression much as a sculptor would seeing the image in a raw block of wood. At the end of the set, the band performed a bright rendition of "If" by Pink Floyd from Atom Heart Mother and ended the show on a sonically upbeat, if also moody, note. Thus proving this band isn't just good at make powerful, darkly ambient soundscapes.

Critic's Notebook: Bias: Been an Orbit Service fan since the late '90s.

Random Detail: Ran into Charity Mudd and Mingo as well as Julia LiBassi and Scott Conroy of The Raven and the Writing Desk at the show.

By the Way: A recording of tonight's show is being included with the deluxe edition of A Calm Note From the West.

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