If he knows how to do anything, Moby knows how to sell himself. Just ask the countless advertisers who shelled out millions to license songs from his 1999 album Play, making it a literal commercial success. When Area: One — Moby’s version of defunct package tours like Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair and H.O.R.D.E. — made its debut in Atlanta last night, it was obvious that selling is still Moby’s strong point, as fans were treated to almost as much advertising as music. And with ten acts on two stages, that’s saying a lot.
The day and tour began when Nelly Furtado took the stage around 4 p.m., backed by a six-piece band. The singer-songwriter started with an energetic version of “Baby Girl” from her debut album Whoa, Nelly!. The venue was only three-quarters-full by this time, and the majority remained seated, but neither this, nor an overpowering snare drum piercing through the overall mix, could deter Furtado, who bounced around the stage like a pixie on PCP throughout her thirty-minute set. However, not even the performance of her hit “Like a Bird,” would bring many more to their feet, because those of us not lucky enough to be in covered seating were busy paying more than $3 for bottled water to help battle the scorching Atlanta heat.
Between the main-stage sets, the young, predominantly white female audience, moved to the Focus Stage, an air-conditioned tent, where DJs like Paul Oakenfold provided thick dance grooves as videos flickered on screens that were set up throughout. Although the bass was head-rattling and there were long lines to get in, the rave tent, as it was unofficially called, provided much-needed respite between bands.
If you didn’t want to dance in the tent, you could visit several activist booths, like Rock the Vote, which was pushing for attendees to sign a petition urging stronger Hate Crime legislation. At the Intel Digital Music Zone you could take snapshots of yourself, mix dance tracks and more, namely be subjected to seeing the Intel logo. You also didn’t have to go far to see a Ford Focus, just in case you unsure what kind of car you should buy.
Following a quick set change, Philadelphia’s the Roots took the main stage and tore through a forty-minute set of nonstop funky hip-hop. Although the sound engineer still had not rectified the overpowering snare in the mix, and the vocal mix for the first two songs resided in reverb hell, the Roots proved why they are regarded as the best live band in hip-hop. Led by drummer ?uestlove, they sounded as if they had been playing together for twenty years.
However, Incubus was the first band that seemed to succeed in making the crowd forget about the heat and focus on the music. As the band began its hour-long set, the majority of those in attendance rose to their feet, where they would remain throughout. It was a deserved response, as the band — most notably vocalist Brandon Boyd — gave all its energy to the audience. Even the snare sounded good.
After Incubus it was time for hometown heroes OutKast, who were greeted with an enthusiastic roar when they strutted out — Andre 3000 in a platinum-blonde wig and sunglasses, Big Boi sporting a vintage baseball jersey. For more than seventy minutes, OutKast treated their fans to amped renditions of their hits, like “Elevators (Me And You),” “Rosa Parks,” “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean,” and the fans responded by singing along and, of course, waving their hands in the air. The energetic crowd was sent over the edge when the group blasted into the set’s closing song, “B.O.B.” (Bombs Over Baghdad), and began dancing wildly to keep up with the accelerated beat.
As the wait for Moby began, so did the onslaught of advertising. On two big screens, three commercials were shown. Then they were shown again. And again. At first the audience stared at the screen as if they were in a trance. By the seventh time the commercial loop began, people started cursing at the screen. “Turn it off! We don’t want to buy your shit!” It was funny at first, but when the commercials continued for more than twenty minutes, people were beginning to scream louder and they had stopped laughing.
Finally, smoke filled the stage and Moby ran out for what would prove to be an anticlimactic set. Between the draining sun, all the energy they gave OutKast and the nauseating commercials, the audience didn’t have much left for the man responsible for the show, who was even wearing an OutKast T-shirt. While his band was tight, and the light show impressive, it wasn’t enough. After each song, more people began to leave. Those who stayed cheered, but you could tell that the real headliners had already left the stage.