Orbital was the first band that I saw in San Francisco. It was 1990 and I crossed the bridge from Berkeley to see them at some club called The Bridge. I don't remember who the opener was -- maybe it was Consolidated? Someone like that -- but I was standing at the back by the sound booth when Orbital began, and they performed from the sound booth, so suddenly I was I the "front row", leaning into the window and watching these two nerdy bald guys with headlights on their glasses turn knobs and punch arcane numbers into the keypads of a really impressive stack of 1U rack-mount devices.

So then years later, I'm leaning against the Trocadero bar, probably at Death Guild, and I'm telling someone the Orbital story. "Yeah, I don't know where that club was... I hadn't lived here long...", I said. "There was a stage over there, and the bar was over there, and stairs were over there, and HEY WAIT A MINUTE it was this building!"

So it turns out that the Trocadero, which has been named that since the 70s, was renamed to "The Bridge" for like, six months in the middle of its 30 year history. Weird.

And then suddenly:

It's 1995. I'm seeing Hackers, for the first time, in the theatre. The opening song is Halcyon + On + On. I think, "Ok, Orbital, cool! A little old school. But I see what you're doing here. I'll allow it."

Anyway, if you see your mom this weekend, be sure and tell her...

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11 Responses:

  1. phuzz says:

    Off to see them in a couple of weeks when they're back on this side of the pond. Can't wait :)
    (Even if they're playing in a really shitty venue)

  2. Dustin says:


    • reboots says:

      My little brother was really into Orbital, and into that intro. I was able to smugly blow his mind by playing him the same intro from the Butthole Surfer's Locust Abortion Technician, from several years prior. Later I heard a rumor that the Buttholes had lifted it in turn from Frank Zappa. But I haven't found a cite, and don't have the stamina for Zappa's back catalog.

      I made it up to him decades later by finding THE ORBITAL HEADLIGHTS at a hamfest. Apparently the product was only marketed as a reading aid for old people, and so was completely distinctive and futuristic on stage. By that point little brother was big into Burner culture, and THE ORBITAL HEADLIGHTS made him a hero at the next Burn event.

      Cool stories, amirite?

  3. Stephen says:

    Friday, 11th June 1993. Bristol, UK. (as part of the Megadog Midi Circus)
    They performed "in the round" with surround sound speakers in the corner of the room. Supported by the Aphex Twin. Great night.
    I also remember them at Glastonbury doing the Dr Who theme which went down a storm.

    • jwz says:

      I also got to see a pre-show last night where they performed in a tiny room with a 24-something channel spatial audio system, and during a pause for "technical difficulties", they told some stories about past gigs -- in one, they had built a tower in the center of the space, with them and their gear inside it, audience in the round. They said, "But it turned out, the best place to hear the gig was inside the tower, which was only us. We hadn't really thought that through." I wonder if that's the same event?

  4. Rezmason says:

    My first exposure to Orbital and Halcyon + On + On was through a Mac OS X "docklet" / menu item called "Massinova", which was a live request internet radio that got shut down. It was 2003, I was a decade late, but I'd never heard electronic music before, and it painted for me a vision of bright futures.


  5. thielges says:

    At he SF Design Center off of Henry Adams an electronic show set up in the atrium. Moby was the headliner but Orbital stole the show. I had taken Caltrain to the show and the midnight hour was looming when my carriage would turn into a pumpkin. I was so blissed out I decided to blow off the last train and try my luck hitchhiking. It worked! Got a ride from another in the audience who drove me all the way home. Electronic music fans are the best! That was the first of several miracle rides home I got that year.

    Coincidentally I was also standing near the sound booth (but Orbital performed from the stage). I was chatting with the sound guy who kvetched that Moby was the only person on the tour who got his own hotel room. Everyone else slept on the bus.

  6. Doodpants says:

    Halcyon + On + On was the closing song of both the movies Mortal Kombat and Mean Girls. Make of that what you will.

  7. illiterati says:

    I have permanent ringing in my right ear after seeing Orbital in Chicago in 1999. I was with a woman I fancied, and she wanted to stand right next to the speakers. Of course, this was the one night I forgot my earplugs.

    Most days I think it was worth it.

  8. Seeing Orbital live is a good one to cross off the bucket list. They played a fantastic set in Brooklyn on Tuesday. (They really hauled their stuff far in 48 hours, huh)

    Hope it's not too-long of a lull between these U.S. appearances (only 3 of them) and the next ones... fans had to wait a while for them to come back for the current tour.

  9. Jonathan says:

    My first time was 2009, and my second was this year, at the Sage, Gateshead (great venue), with my wife. This was also only the second gig I've been to with my wife (music taste is not something we share broadly speaking) and we had a great time. I think the first time I really listened to them was when they split up in '04 and did a farewell gig for John Peel. Long may they continue!