The Chemical Brothers Live Again

Image by Sergio Martin

Davo Reviews The Chemical Brothers Live @ The Dome Sydney Showground – 29 February 2024

Three guys around my age are standing just in front of me during The Chemical Brothers live set at Sydney Showgrounds. Throughout the concert, I watch the trio hug each other in pure ecstasy and exclaim that this is the best live show that they have ever been to. I could not agree more.

Albeit a few, surrounding me at this concert are more old geezers than I can count. The Dome is packed with middle-aged couples dressed in what I assume are the same outfits they’d worn to see them twenty years prior. It’s amusing at first to see how wide the age range in this crowd is, but it quickly becomes clear why so many were out past their bedtimes. The Chemical Brothers are still performing at the top of their game.

The Chemical Brothers live at First Direct Arena in Leeds. Photo by Andrew Benge

The Chemical Brothers exploded onto the scene in Manchester in 1989, changing the sound of electronic dance music forever. During the 90s, the duo consisting of Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands competed against other legendary acts such as Orbital, Leftfield, and The Prodigy to see who could take their live experience to the next level. After more than 30 years of performing, The Chemical Brothers are still selling out arenas across the globe, backed by visuals just as mesmerising as the music accompanying them.

The duo has worked with the same show designers throughout their entire careers. It’s clear they have maintained little interest in their presences, so it’s no surprise that the visuals take centre stage. These aren’t just basic visualisers featuring flashy neon lights set in sync with the music. What sets The Chemical Brothers apart are the incredibly ambitious performances shot on film, while the music is pumping.

The Chemical Brothers live at OVO Hydro in Glasgow. Photo by Murdo Macleod

A blue-faced man in a devil-horned red suit pulls funny faces at the crowd, while “Get Yourself High” belts through The Dome. The blue devil-man taunts us with the chorus “Don’t rely on us to get you high” before the song weaves together an eerie and hypnotic hook. Frantic verses from Canadian rapper k-os cross over a bouncy electronic instrumental.

My favourite accompanying clip, by far, is “Eve of Destruction”. Norwegian singer AURORA appears as though straight out of a science fiction film in a white armoured suit with an orange visor on her head. Joining her in the clip is Japanese R&B singer Nene who powers up into a caped hero to fight off a myriad of monsters as if she was a character in a tokusatsu series like Kamen Rider. This full sequence was released on YouTube as the official music video for “Eve of Destruction” (something I was extremely pleased to discover and have since rewatched dozens of times).

The Chemical Brothers live in Sydney. Photo by David Balodis Serra

The very next visual segment causes a total tonal whiplash. A dreamy scenescape unfolds with another blue man, this time dressed in a toga, and an ethereal-looking woman superimposed over him, set to “Feels Like I Am Dreaming. The contrast between the Japanese action-inspired music video and Dario Argento-esque film clip could not be greater, but it totally works. Throughout the entire concert up to this point, The Chemical Brothers have not taken a second to let the crowd take it all in and, judging from the energy around me, there was no need to.

The stagecraft cannot keep itself confined within the screen and breaks out into the crowd at certain points. While the song “MAH” plays, a pale white-skinned alien wearing some kind of skull mask and crown, sings along that he is “Mad as hell!” and “Won’t take it no more”. The song is a constant crescendo of synthesisers and arpeggiators, building up to the moment that the alien showcases just how mad he is by shooting beams of light out of his fingers and into the crowd.

The Chemical Brothers live at Alexandra Palace in London. Photo by Marcus Fairs

The three-dimensional effects don’t just stop with shining lights. My favourite three-track run of the setlist “Star Guitar”, “Live Again”, and “Got to Keep On” uses the show’s production to an incredibly immersive effect. Confetti slowly begins to fall on the crowd from the ceiling as the line, “And the rain comes down like tears” in “Got to Keep On” is sung. An overjoyed crowd reacts in the only way possible: reaching up to grab the confetti like a child seeing snow for the first time.

Later on, a live performance of “Free Yourself” takes the song’s sentiment to heart. A clip of giant floating balloons pops out of the screen as the beat drops before the song’s hook. The chorus brings with it a flurry of synths that blare out like a siren announcing the arrival of a bunch of giant balloons. The crowd reverts immediately to infant mode upon the reveal of giant balloons floating above their head as everyone rushes forward and jumps up to smack them across the stadium at others in the crowd. No one is immune to the urge to hit the balloon, myself included.

The Chemical Brothers live at Alexandra Palace in London. Photo by Marcus Fairs

Closing out the setlist is a medley of 100% Chemical Brothers hits. I get to live out a personal fantasy by hearing some of my favourite tracks like “Galvanizeamongst a crowd who probably could recall to me where they were the first time they heard it. Pure bliss ensues as the familiar bassline to “Block Rockin Beats” fills the stadium.

Closing out the show is an epic encore ending on “The Private Psychedelic Reel”. The 9-minute live rendition has become a staple of The Chemical Brothers performances for the totally cathartic sense it provides at the end of two straight hours of live electronic music. The song features everything from a sitar solo opening to an interpolation of The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil”. Behind them as the song plays, an incredible-looking sequence told through stained glass window paintings brings the show to its climactic end.

As the final notes play, friends and families embrace all around me, proclaiming that if they were to return to perform in Sydney they would be there in a heartbeat. The Chemical Brothers wave us goodbye with one final hopeful message:

“Hold tight Sydney.”

The Chemical Brothers live in Sydney. Photo by David Balodis Serra

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