After yesterday’s post of French Arabic fusion act Speed Caravan, and their spirited rendition of “Galvanize,” I figured it was finally time to tackle this pair of Chemical Brothers shows from last month, May 15th at the Shrine Exposition Hall & May 16th at the Greek Theatre, both in the City of Angels. I’ve been sitting on these shows for longer than I intended. But I was looking for the right angle to kick start my inspiration and actually do these performances justice. Whether that’s actually what follows is up to interpretation. At least, I’m finally motivated to share some of these wonderfully clever and creative moments from what are easily my favorite concerts of the year thus far.
2019 marks the 30th anniversary of one of the originators of contemporary electronic dance music, the Mancunian pair of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, a.k.a. the Chemical Brothers. The dynamic electro-dance duo have remained trailblazers and pioneers, cultivating a uniquely potent breakbeat style of rhythmic grooves, teetering between bombastic psychedelia and soothing ambient house, often integrating pop, rock, and hip hop elements, both in style and featured contributors – Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, Portishead’s Beth Orton, Beck, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Q-Tip, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, and the Flaming Lips Wayne Coyne, to name a few.
It’s been more than a few years, three to be exact, since the Chemical Brothers have done a proper tour of the states, past performances being relegated to one-off shows at large festivals and the like. And it’s been a heck of a lot longer than that, since I’ve last seen them … I would say, all the back to “Surrender” or “Come with Us,” which probably means close to 19-20 years. That’s a really long time, especially considering I was present for their first U.S. tour, supporting their debut LP “Exit Planet Dust,” and then attending as many of the ones that followed as I was able. Those were all back when I lived in San Francisco. During those years, electronic music culture was thriving. And it was beautiful, lively, carefree, and glorious.
Anyway, it goes without saying that I was eagerly awaiting these shows when they were announced late last year. I had recollections of their insanely visual performances, with their setlist remixed, reconfigured, and reassembled into a continuous live performance, essentially a DJ set of their own making, performed as live as electronic music can be performed live. Plus, I’d heard the stories of their renown Coachella appearance, as well as their Hollywood Bowl stint, both of which I missed for reasons I can’t quite recall.
That brings us to mid-May, for two shows, both in wildly different venues, but equally effective – the standing room only Shrine Exposition Hall, and the outdoor, reserve-seated Greek amphitheater. Obviously, I went to both, because I felt the need to make up for lost time and attendance. And who knows how long these guys will keep on keepin’ on. They’re nine albums in, and still going and growing incredibly strong, so hopefully many more years. But I wasn’t going to chance it.
Whatever the case is, could, or should be, I can confidently state that I wasn’t disappointed in the least bit with either performance. Although, in hindsight, I think I preferred the Shrine more, mainly because it was the first of two nights, my first in a couple decades, and I was right up front with a perfect view and a set of speakers blasting right in my face. In other words, the conditions were sublimely perfect. And thus, most of the footage featured in this post comes from that show, with the remaining extra two sourced from the Greek, one for a different perspective, the other because I missed it the first round.
I knew they would sound pitch-perfect and amazing. Most electronic music does, with the right set-up. But the Chemical Brothers tend to do a bit of improv, rehearsed or not, which keeps the tempo alive and the atmosphere dynamic. It’s just the two of them, so every spontaneous bit counts. And there was plenty of that, or so it seemed, as they performed a continuous hour, then restarted for another 30 minutes, concluding with an encore of another 20 minute closer.
I just love their alchemical ability to seamlessly blend multiple tracks into something surprisingly new, yet uniquely familiar. After three decades, they haven’t lost any of their spark, energy, or enthusiasm to continue inventing and reinventing. For example, take this five song mashup they performed during their second set. This quintet of catalogue classics were strung together and layered to create a manic 13 minute mix of high-powered percussive steam-rolling insanity, where familiar tracks would slip into rhythmic oscillations that warped and bent songs in and out of recognition. Oh yeah, and there were giant robots shooting lasers out their eyes, too.
Here’s the Chemical Brothers mixing it up at the Shrine with “Escape Velocity,” “Hoops,” “The Golden Path,” “Get Up On It Like This,” and “Under the Influence.”
The Chemical Brothers continuously perform “Escape Velocity,” “Hoops,” “The Golden Path,” “Get Up On It Like This,” and “Under the Influence,” remixed and reimagined @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
Speaking of crazy visuals, giant robots with lasers were only the tip of this Chemical iceberg. I was expecting exceedingly cool projections and lighting setups. But I really wasn’t prepared for the exceptional choreographed imagery that synced near-perfect to every beat thrown down on stage. What’s most striking is the use of actual dancers and performance artists to visually interpret the music. It’s some of the most visually complex simplicity I’ve seen, using minimalism for maximum impact. That’s most prevalent in tracks like “Free Yourself” and “Eve of Destruction.”
Both are below, the former embedded as the second track in a four song barrage of seamless intensity, bookmarked by vectorized, wireframed performers and strobing, petalled abstractions, the latter as a standalone homage to Japanese costumed heroes a la Ultraman or Gatchaman. Regarding the former, I just love the bathtub moment and the anxious chair bit. Fun stuff.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Go,” “Free Yourself,” “We’ve Got to Try” and “Chemical Beats” continuously @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Eve of Destruction” @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
Compared to the interpretive dance of “Free Yourself,” my next favorite audio/visual experience occurred with “MAH,” from the consistently strong latest album “No Geography.” I can’t really do this one justice with words alone. You just have to see it for yourself. The song itself is a crafty high-speed tribal rhythm, with a nutty vocal refrain that just builds and builds into an acidic analog lunacy. I’ve got recordings from both shows, each from a slightly different perspective, but both offering the same level of A/V escalation in intensity.
The Chemical Brothers perform “MAH” @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
The Chemical Brothers perform “MAH” @ the Greek Theatre on 05.16.19.
Next up, there’s this simplistically amusing quirk of an animation to accompany “Hey Boy Hey Girl,” from the ’99 release “Surrender,” which puts me back to around the time I last saw them. This one feels more rave-y than I recall. But that might just be the barrage of lasers and strobes that are conjuring that mental recollection. It’s still catchy all the same. And it’s infectious refrain makes it hard not to sing along. In fact, it’s kinda made for it. Check it out and see/hear.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Hey Boy Hey Girl” @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
Another of my favorite moments came with the combo of “Swoon,” “Star Guitar,” and “Got to Keep On,” with a cover version of New Order’s “Temptation” mixed in between the melodies, proving completely unexpected and totally appropriate. I’ve heard that they’ve done this mix in past shows. But since I haven’t seen them in ages, it proved to be exactly the kind of surprise I was hoping for. Plus, this four song selection brought back some of the more melodic tones and textures that punctuate the Chemical Brothers most memorable, and arguably, most popular tracks.
Here’s the combo from the Shrine performance, complete with accompanying psychedelic projections of colored human abstractions.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Swoon,” “Temptation,” “Star Guitar,” and “Got to Keep On” continuously @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
There was also this ridiculous moment during the ecstatic escalation of “Saturate,” where 20 or so crew members, each with two giant balloons, populated the region between audience and stage, and tossed the inflatables into the crowd simultaneously and on cue. Here’s the bouncy result.
Giant Balloons take over the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19, while The Chemical Brothers perform “Saturate.”
Following the balloon event, the Chemical Brothers tied up the first hour long set with the brief bit of funkiness “Elektrobank,” which also featured one of the wackier moments of skewed visual humor, and concluded with “No Geography,” the epic blast of euphoric melancholy that takes its title from the latest LP. Incidentally, it’s also one of my favorites, feeling wholly relevant and substantial in today’s climate and culture. It also peaks in an almost incomplete way, leaving you wanting more, yet still remaining satisfying all the same. Seems an appropriate way to wrap up the first hour.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Saturate,” “Elektrobank,” and “No Geography” continuously @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
As previously mentioned, the five track mashup of “Escape Velocity,” “Hoops,” “The Golden Path,” “Get Up On It Like This,” and “Under the Influence” got the second set off to a frenetic start. Following this mix, the Chemical Brothers took things down a notch with one of my favorite moments from the night, with a wonderfully euphoric rendition of “Wide Open,” which could only have been improved if Beck himself showed up to do the vocals. Of course, that didn’t happen. But ultimately, I didn’t really care.
“Wide Open” reminds me of how great the Chemical Brothers are at integrating pop touchstones into their distinctly cultured electronic form. I remember hearing this track back in 2016, when the accompanying album “Born in the Echoes” first came out. I liked it, but it never really hit me the way it did during this particular performance. It just felt so grand and meaningful, with a subdued elegance that leant itself to the live, loud continuous mix. Great stuff!
The Chemical Brothers perform “Wide Open” @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
After that welcomed euphoric afterglow, the Chemical Brothers kicked it back into gear with a five track closer of old-school breakbeat classics, featuring “Galvanize,” which inspired me to tackle these particular shows after hearing Speed Caravan’s rendition, as well as “Song to the Siren,” “C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L,” “Leave Home,” and “Block Rockin’ Beats.” Four of those are near and dear to me, coming from their first two seminal albums, “Exit Planet Dust” and “Dig Your Own Hole.” “C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L” is a 2016 release, but its deliberate and brief placement makes total sense in context. And it gave the duo a fun moment to play to the crowd.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Galvanize,” “Song to the Siren,” “C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L,” “Leave Home,” and “Block Rockin’ Beats” continuously @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
The encore, a.k.a. third set, featured three tracks, the seamlessly blended “Got Glint” and “Catch Me I’m Falling,” and the epic breakbeat kaleidoscopic conclusion “The Private Psychedelic Reel.”
The former two skewed a bit closer to downtempo … or as downtempo as the Chemical Brothers can be with a live groove, complete with all kinds of fanning laser streams and strobes.
“The Private Psychedelic Reel” assumed a near religious stance, with iconic stained glass imagery, sequenced and animated to shock the spirit right out of you. It’s like their version of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which incidentally played as they took the stage, but beat blasted with an infinite escalation of pounding percussion and sitar-stabbed soul rock, only to end in a barrage of knob twiddling chaos and noise. An appropriate conclusion that’s as sincere as it is subversive.
The Chemical Brothers perform “Got Glint” and “Catch Me I’m Falling” @ the Greek Theatre on 05.16.19.
The Chemical Brothers perform “The Private Psychedelic Reel” and “Chemical Beats” continuously @ the Shrine Exposition Hall on 05.15.19.
I’ve also got the setlist for the Shrine performance as a Spotify embed. The Greek show featured the same selection, with minor discrepancies, all due to a bit of improv here and there. I also should note that although I’ve included a majority of their show in the footage above, that’s not everything they performed.
And unfortunately, this setlist as playlist isn’t the most accurate representation of the show, since so many of these tracks were remixed and restructured to work in their live continuous flow. To give you an idea, the show clocked in around an hour and fifty minutes. The playlist adds about an hour to that. And since these are the original recordings, which also come from albums that are, for the most part, also continuously mixed, there’s going to be some differences, as well as a few abrupt starts and stops. Still, this is a great collection of Chemical Brothers tunes, spanning the entirety of their prolific and influential 30 year career.
That’s as good a place as any to wrap up this post. I’m hoping they return sooner than the last time, maybe even circling back in the fall to play the Hollywood Bowl, or a similar venue. That’s probably wishful thinking. But now that I’ve had the opportunity to finally see them again, I’d like to keep the ball rolling well into the future.
I hope you enjoyed this bit on the Chemical Brothers. Here’s the setlist. Peace.