IN their ceaseless quest for the perfect state, 808 have done their level best to create in a live situation the kind of neo-futuristic environment their music so often evokes. There are huge white balls hanging from the dome-like ceiling, blobs of aqueous white light distorting around carefully controlled strobes and a stunning laser display (no robots though — I would have liked robots!). Add to that a near-flawless sound system and you have the conditions for some take off!
"808 808 808", the lasers flash above our heads and the journey to the perfect state begins. The tinkling northern lights of "Ancodia" soar out over a shuddering beat and aged disco samples rub shoulders with the coolest Nineties techno soundtrack. Visually spectacular, musically pure NRG, the sheer power of 808 live is a different entity altogether from their recorded output.
Where Ninety" can suffice as background music in the home, the music live involves: from dance to trance and back again. Graham Massey whirls a jumper around his head, Martin Price raises a salute to the Fatherland as the beat goes on, a living, pulsating organism of sound-colour and space-age imagery.
MC Tunes and two rappers join the gang for a slice of futuristic hip hop grooves, Massey pounding away at a Simmons kit like an elasticised boxer. Another MC rap follows, but this time seems to act as a filler, the 808's noticeably refraining from the crowd-stirring gestures they've employed so far. The calm before the storm, perhaps? "Yeah yeah yeah," rants Tunes at the end before Massey mock-throttles him off, off and away.
Back to 120 bpm and another rockin' techno-beat and a vocal lifted from Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You" (also recently employed by The Orb). Price scratches the groove as the lasers blast out darting figures of spectral green. 808's music is evolving all the time. Just as the versions of "Cobra Bora" and "Ancodia" on "The Extended Pleasure Of Dance" EP were vast departures from their "Ninety" blueprints, the new stuff aired tonight shows 808 becoming more experimental, distorting their own boundaries ever further (anyone familiar with Massey's work with Biting Tongues will know he's not one).
For a band who transpose everything that rock music represents, it comes as a surprise to see Massey strap on a bass guitar for "Cubik", but 808 are no inverted-Luddites and no doubt have already invested in tin whistles for the next LP. "Cubik" is 808's high-energy dance side in full effect, a crashing, laser-flashing collision of body-beating rhythms, shades of a European urban spaciousness echoing the pioneering Kraftwerk.
The final "Pacific" is as liberating as, say, the best of fellow Mancunian dance renegades New Order, an aural paradisiac and still their finest moment.
808 State are fabulous tonight. The full tour starts June 18 - see them and hear the way of things to come.