Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Chemical Brothers @ Roundhouse, London

20 May 2010

Anyone who’s seen The Chemical Brothers live knows that Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands offer a far greater spectacle than two blokes just mindlessly twiddling knobs or gormlessly staring at laptops when they take to the stage. With four nights at the Roundhouse sold out and a wealth of new material to air from their imminent seventh album, Further, expectations are high.

The duo successfully milk this and crank up the anticipation further with a huge whirring build-up before finally taking to the stage. Kicking off with a drifting shoegazey track, the immense, floor-to-ceiling video-wall behind the vast racks of keyboards and electronics shows shots of slow motion diving and dry-ice smoke pours down from the ceiling.

It’s quite an opening and the momentum is maintained with another new track, the epic, slowly evolving, peak-filled Escape Velocity, which sees the screens full of dancing stick men made of lights pulling some moves. The smiling crowd follow suit, as they do for the following buoyant Balearic handraiser – another new offering.

The flow of new material continues as a woman appears on the screen backdrop, looking around bewildered as flailing men in bowler hats surround her. The credit crunch imagery is backed initially with a strummed guitar sample that then turns into one of those ever-building towers of electronic noise that the Chems do best. They follow this with another fresh track aimed squarely at the dancefloor; it gets the desired response as it bangs and builds to a menacing, darkly acidic crescendo.

The new single, the Star Guitar-esque Swoon, goes down like a future anthem should before tribal drums kick in and monochrome birds take over the screen for a harpsichord-led number infiltrated sweetly by simple orchestral chords. This is followed by another roaring, soaring beast of a track.

The music then grinds to a halt and a looping depth charge sample sees the duo play for time as Rowlands frantically pulls out and plugs in a thousand leads on the mixing desk – so much for those that criticise the Chems for playing to a backing track, they seem to work hard for their bread! As the depth charge builds then falls the first old classic is unleashed in the form of Hey Boy Hey Girl which gets arms punching through the strobes and smoke.

What sounds like an acid mix of Under The Influence then forces its way through but merges into Setting Sun before screaming, squealing, squeaking and bleeping into previous album highlight, Saturate. Nothing is played straight as a sample of Believe comes in midway through, drops out then takes over.

As thudding acid classic Chemical Beats gets screwed up into something even darker than the original, the duo then leave the stage leaving Love Is All on the screen. Scores of people leave but as the duo didn’t actually vacate the stage at all during the set, many others hang around awaiting an encore. It’s a confusing ending, but the cries of “More!” go unheeded, and that’s actually that.

With a reputation for providing a full-on, all-encompassing show, the Brothers certainly didn’t disappoint, in spite of the slightly confused ending. The visuals have clearly been slaved over for many an hour and the light show is a true epileptic’s nightmare, but it’s mesmerising. And then, of course, there’s the music which is cranked up and twisted to squeeze out every last drop of dancefloor drama. Tonight’s performance saw the Chemical Brothers reinforce their credentials as one of the best mainstream dance live acts out there.

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