The Chemical Brothers, Civic Hall, Wolverhampton

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The Independent Culture

"So good to be back with my brothers," slurs The Charlatans' lead singer, Tim Burgess, guesting with The Chemical Brothers for a rare live version of their 1995 collaborative hit "Life Is Sweet". The warmth in Burgess's voice brings back happy memories of the days when the Chemicals - Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands - first paired psychedelia with beats and indie melodies to fabulously ballistic, bankable effect. More to the point, his sentiment is amply echoed by the crowd at this warm-up gig for the duo's festival shows, who give them a heroes' welcome.

"So good to be back with my brothers," slurs The Charlatans' lead singer, Tim Burgess, guesting with The Chemical Brothers for a rare live version of their 1995 collaborative hit "Life Is Sweet". The warmth in Burgess's voice brings back happy memories of the days when the Chemicals - Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands - first paired psychedelia with beats and indie melodies to fabulously ballistic, bankable effect. More to the point, his sentiment is amply echoed by the crowd at this warm-up gig for the duo's festival shows, who give them a heroes' welcome.

It's thrilling to see, because you could be forgiven for expecting the Chemicals to be the next casualty in the decline of dance music's fortunes. After all, the mixed reviews dished out to their last album, 2002's Come with Us, suggested that they were recycling former glories a long way from the clubland that made their name. The album wasn't that bad, although its collaboration with Richard Ashcroft was, in fairness, nobody's idea of a good time.)

But as the buoyant opening rush of "Hey Boy Hey Girl" is met with open arms by an already sweaty crowd, it's clear the Chems have some tricks up their sleeve. If they're on their way out, they're not going to go quietly. Most of tonight's set is culled from their Nineties-high-point albums, Dig Your Own Hole and Surrender, with appetite-whetters in the shape of three killer new tracks. Of the latter, a brutal acid-house number featuring ominous intonations of, "You are all my children now," brings the house down. By contrast, another exudes the Ibiza-ish glow that made "Star Guitar" the best track on Come with Us, suggesting that rumours of the duo's retreat from the dancefloor have been wildly overstated.

In fact, over almost two hours, the fierce pace leaves you little choice but to keep moving. The heart of the set is a propulsive stretch of "Under the Influence", "It Doesn't Matter", "Out of Control", New Order's "Temptation" and the cascading "Star Guitar". You could accuse the Chemicals of lacking subtlety, but their folding of beats into a multi-hued wash of noise and visuals actually bustles with ideas - it's just played at such full pelt, you don't stop to think about it.

Come the close, the epic "Private Psychedelic Reel" proves so all-engulfing that it seems churlish to ask if the Chemicals have it in them to regain lost ground. Indeed, the combination of the track's lift-off whoosh with surround sound, skittering lasers and 3,000-ish giddy punters plays merry havoc with the critical faculties. For now, let's just say that these two, not the main-stage headliners, Oasis, will be the Brothers to watch at Glastonbury on Friday.

Glastonbury, Friday; T in the Park, 11 July; Creamfields, 28 August

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