The whole confusing melange that is English dance music–including styles like acid house, techno, ambient, hardcore, underground, and many more–has blossomed so dramatically in the past few years that its original source, Chicago house music, is long gone from the sound. But none of the niche diggers and supposed innovators I’ve heard comes close to the breadth, ambition, and sheer nerve of the Orb, who refuse to be bound by any one (or two or three) styles. Consisting of Alex Paterson and a shifting number of outside helpers, the Orb shape synthesizers and electronics into a flowing, heady brew that uses, among other things, disfigured found voices, driving beats, mind-bending dub effects, craftily assimilated electronic noise, hypnotic repetition, and ethereal washes of lush ambient sound, all cast in a cyber-psychedelic glow. Rather than latch onto either dance-music extreme–drifting aural fluff or robotic drum-machine-and-cheesy-synth onslaughts–the Orb mix it up, so that the course of any given piece is fairly unpredictable. Witnesses at the Orb gig here last fall describe a performance accompanied by an intense light show and lasting more than three hours, members of the group mysteriously hunkered down beneath banks of electronics. As last year’s double CD Live 93 proves, the Orb draw on improvisation and rearrangement when they perform live, and if the brand-new Pomme Fritz (all four of their CDs are on Island) is any indication, they’ve moved into an even more intriguing, unsettling, experimental thrust. This last-minute show is a prelude to their appearance at Woodstock. Tuesday, 10 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Vincent McDonald.