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Pop / Rock 27/03/2002

The Chemical Brothers Give It Large In London

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LONDON, UK (Top40 Charts) - The full-on U.K. summer rave season hasn't kicked off yet, so the Chemical Brothers brought the next best thing to London's Brixton Academy on Saturday (Mar. 23).

Sandwiched between two chunks of guest DJs spinning tasty house slabs, the Chemicals ?- Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands ?- produced a storming two-hour set that showed the faithful why they deserve their title as the kings of the massive beat.

One of the first "electronica" acts to move from clubs to arenas, the Chemicals have always filtered their sound through influences ranging from New Order and My Bloody Valentine to Kraftwerk and Public Enemy. In the process, they evolved their own sound, "big beat," that made an effortless jump from the dance floor to the radio. However, 10 years into their careers and the Chemicals have recently been taking a bit of a drubbing in the U.K. musical press for the low-key slant they've delivered on their new CD, Come with Us.

But on this night, a few gigs into their full first tour in almost three years, the Chemicals were back where they belonged, giving it large to a sold-out home crowd for the second night in a row. There was nothing low-key or halfway going on here, and you'd have been hard-pressed to have found too many disappointed punters in the heaving, adoring crowd. This was dance music as it should be: mind-numbing filter sweeps, teeth-chattering bass lines, set against ceaseless strobes, and a barrage of visual imagery. And it rocked.

The group ratcheted the tension up to full from the beginning as lights dimmed and muted sounds emanated from the speakers for almost 10 minutes before "Music: Response," the staggering lead track from the 1999 album Surrender, exploded. The beats washed over the ecstatic crowd like a tsunami that had been out to sea too long. There was no looking back. "Block Rockin' Beats" dropped next, and it would be 45 minutes of near-seamless segues before the Brothers let up and the audience could catch its collective breath.

"It Began in Afrika," the unofficial first single released from the new album, proved itself every bit the thunderous workout as its musical predecessors. Laced with tribal techno squeals and pulsating beats, the live mix of this song left no doubts about the Brothers' eminence on the decks.

That said, Simons and Rowlands have never been the most comfortable frontmen, and they still lurk in the shadows behind a sprawling tech console reminiscent of the deck on the Enterprise, preferring to let the video imagery and sounds take center stage. Rowlands, long blonde hair now shorn but trademark nerdy glasses still in place, did manage an occasional fist-in-the-air acknowledgement to the crowd, and Simons even made the occasional foray outside the keyboards to dance.

But mainly they did what they do best -- pumped every conceivable sound they had in their arsenal out at incredible volume. A brief sampling of "Setting Sun" teased, but was quickly fulfilled as "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" had the crowd chanting along, hands waving in unison. Except for some slight technical glitches in "Star Guitar" when the rhythm track dropped out of the mix, the show was practically flawless.

Things came to a snarling crescendo in a hailstorm of feedback in the form of awesome oldie, "The Private Psychedelic Reel." Then, a quick two-handed high-five at the front of the decks and Simons and Rowlands were gone. The gantlet has definitely been thrown down for the summer season. Let's see who can match this!

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