Roy Orbison: In Dreams
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, Sun 8 Mar
‘’Then all at once he was standing there, so sure of himself, his head in the air’’ goes the Orbison classic Running Scared. Depending on your stance, this is either a triumphant or unfortunate choice of lyrics to watch such a venerable and unmatched musical icon as Orbison sing minutes after rising from the floor, like a background extra in Disney’s Haunted Mansion.
There is no denying that in terms of sheer entertainment quality, tonight could not have been better. It was a unique chance to hear many of Orbison’s best songs (and there are so many of them) amplified at arena-sized volume, cutting cleanly through the mighty live clout of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as his backing band. The music is played in the style of 2017’s A Love So Beautiful album which combined Orbison vocal takes with the backing of the orchestra, and in a live setting these versions could not sound better.
The visual spectacle too is certainly impressive. The literature promises that tonight Cardiff is being treated to the first night of a tour which will be a first of it’s kind; taking a long-deceased superstar on a worldwide headline tour in hologram form.
As an orchestral montage of his greatest hits plays to a scrapbook archive, counting down to his appearance on stage, the tension is undeniably palpable and it genuinely sends a shiver down the spine when he pops up out of the floor and stands face to face with the audience. It’s startling how real and solid the hologram feels, with minor details like the tassles on his jacket sleeve swaying in the wind bringing the 4K projection to life.
After the novelty wears off though, the projection starts to feel a bit… well, lifeless. Without the thrill of sharing a room with the actual legend there in front of you, it’s hard to muster much more excitement than you would for a particularly good tribute act. At some point after the shock factor is gone, it does start to feel at best a bit gimmicky, at worse a shameless cash grab. Especially considering that instead of breathing life into archive footage from an old performance, the figure onstage has been created from a number of techniques including CGI to deliver a completely ‘new’ performance, making it feel all the more exploitative.
Had it been left as a recording project marrying up some excellently refurbished vocal tracks with a tasteful contribution from the Royal Philharmonic, it would have felt like a decent contribution to Orbison’s legacy. Instead, the whole tour makes the album seem in retrospect like it was made to serve what amounts to a project that feels like a ghoulish cash-in, trading on gimmickry and shock value to sell copies. It may have been fully approved by his family, but there is something very ethically unsettling about the whole endeavour. Is it an entertaining event worth seeing? Yes, but prepare for it to be interrupted by a constant, nagging uneasiness.
words STEPHEN SPRINGATE