Chemical Brothers at the Avalon
Simply intenseBy Daniel J. Katz
Many people balk at the idea of going to a concert to see DJs. What’s the point of watching something live which is essentially recorded? Anyone under this impression should have been in attendance at the Avalon on September 14th, when the Chemical Brothers opened their first wide-scale American tour in years. Despite advertising a 7pm door time and an 8pm start time the Avalon provided a mediocre house DJ who worked the stage until shortly after 9. To his credit, some of the material near the end of his set was pretty decent, but at that point, the bored crowd was ready to shove his records down his throat.
All was forgiven, however, as the Chemical Brothers took the stage. The Chemicals are probably the most enthusiastic performers in electronic music, jumping around the stage, shouting to the crowd, and raising their hands in triumph with staggering frequency. As songs were mixed together, there were no breaks to chat with the audience, just mind-blowing rhythms from start to finish. The duo opened with the same four songs that appeared on their MTV “Live At Red Rocks” special, and they most likely played the same set, but in person, the music is a totally different experience. Beats and melodies seem to surround you, and everybody moves around spasmodically regardless of whether or not they can actually dance (I confess the latter).
Several Chemicals tracks feature guest vocalists, and rather than carting lead singers from popular bands around with them, the duo recorded these vocals. Bernard Sumner of New Order got full mike time during a particularly long rendition of “Out of Control,” but Noel Gallagher of Oasis was a bit shafted, as “Setting Sun” was performed in a chopped-up fashion that eliminated most of his singing, and “Let Forever Be” was surprisingly absent from the set list, considering its recent popularity. Other well-known tunes that made an appearance included the flawlessly executed (and even improved) “Block Rockin’ Beats” and the frenetic opener, “Hey Boy Hey Girl.”
A lot of neat lighting effects were employed, but the main visual attraction was a set of three video screens which featured various strange images pulsing with the music: silhouettes of a man carrying out various actions, angry advancing armies of robots, mathematical equations (I felt like such an MIT student when I realized they were all laws for electric circuits) and a sunrise which occurred at one of the few slow expansive moments, only to explode into a rainstorm of drums. Even “Song of the Siren,” to me one of the most irritating of the Chemical Brothers’ songs, was enhanced by pictures of starbursts and bright lights that made the shrill siren noises seem like they belonged.
After a brief break from the stage, the Chemicals returned to their fans for a rendition of “The Private Psychedelic Reel” (which was apparently requested, because Tom Rowlands looked at a fan in front and jokingly gave in, whining, “Oh, all right ... ”) The church organ chords of the song, normally somewhat washed out by its other elements, were on at full blast, dominating the song and creating a piece that was not only rhythmically addictive, but which also had a grand, epic feel. As the pair finally left the stage to adulations, everyone in the audience waited, hoping for a second encore (the Avalon doesn’t turn the lights on after a show; because it’s a dance club, it never turns the lights on) but I was actually pleased that they went out with such an amazing closing.
The Chemical Brothers are not my favorite DJs in the world (that honor goes to the Propellerheads) but they have without question, the best live electronic show going. The music is enveloping, the light show is intense, the videos are thought-provoking, and it’s incredibly easy to just lose yourself in the experience. Put on something shiny and check them out next time they come around.