By Paul Ballard
Date / Venue: Thursday April 10th, The Powerstation, Auckland
When it seemed like the city was under the influence of 'Badu-fever', we headed out to join an electric crowd at the Powerstation to catch the return of this well-loved UK trip-hop trio.
Strangely, I think I've heard the term 'trip-hop' used more times in the lead-up to this gig than I did during their heyday in the 1990s. Maybe it's because back then (and in some part today) I never really went for the whole British tradition of 'over-genrification' of musical styles. More often that not, it spelled the end of many a good sub-genre to the clutches of the mainstream.
Trip-hop in the 1990s for me lended itself more to the minimalist styles emanating from the Mo'Wax andNinja Tune camps. Sparse beats where beauty lay purely in the paranoid. It also conjured up certain Bristolian influences, and from memory Morcheeba were always a lot more positive. Maybe that's why they still have a place in so many hearts, even 20 years on.
Kicking off proceedings with the dub-tinged Make Believer, the tone was set as lead singer, the beautiful Skye Edwards took to the stage. Her amazing floral dress (of her own creation it was announced) radiant at centre stage.
"Sorry that it has taken so long to get here," Skye proclaimed softly. "It does take a while to get here from London." It has been 11 years since Morcheeba were last on our shores. Now with four more albums under their belt (two of which were produced without Edwards), tonight was going to be a celebration 20 years in the making.
There were some goose-bump moments as memories of summer weekends in Brighton came flooding back to the opening bars of 1998's The Sea, and it was great to hear original classics Trigger Hippie and Part of the Process in all their wondrous glory. It was like yesterday when I first heard those tunes and judging by the vocal talents of the crowd, and the increasing waft of 'green' from the lower levels, I wasn't the only one basked in heady times past.
It would be fair to say that from the opening bars to the final throws of Rome Wasn't Built in a Day, the crowd was with them every step of the way. However, I wished that the newer material had the same fervour. Apart from the majestic Release Me Now which broke away from the slide-guitar ambience for something more up tempo, the newer Morcheeba sounded somewhat unfocussed, bereft of a distinctive identity. Perhaps when a band is formed so intrinsically through a movement in our musical history, re-inventing things on the other side of that genre must be almost like starting from scratch.
All in all, a pleasant trip through some of the music that helped define a thousand 'chill-out' compilations. For 90 minutes it was a warm, safe haven but nothing more. After the initial gush of nostalgia had passed, it all started to sound pretty formulaic. Even a bizarrely chosen cover of David Bowie's Let's Dance half way through proceedings, although popular with the shuffling crowd, did little to break the increasing monotony. Personally I would have preferred a little more experimentation, a retake on some of those tunes to bring their music up to date.
But that's the trouble with memories I guess; we prefer to remember things exactly as they were.