ROCK: Give me more block rockin' beats
Chemical Brothers Brixton Academy, London Basement Jaxx Forum, London Nine Inch Nails Brixton Academy, London
Sunday 05 December 1999
Basement Jaxx obviously think they can. Wednesday's concert tickets had "Basement Jaxx Live" printed on them, instead of the name of the band by itself. This was a bold statement - and one which seemed at first to be misleading. Simon Ratcliffe stepped into the limelight to play some acoustic guitar on "Rendez Vu", but otherwise he and Felix Buxton skulked in the shadows at the back of the stage, hidden by their mixing desks. Luckily the show, like the album, was very much a collaboration.
This is one of the differences between the Chemical Brothers' album and Basement Jaxx's. Surrender is a coherent, precision-engineered opus which sounds as if it required the Brothers to lock themselves in the studio for 13 months and toil over the record beat by beat - which is reportedly what happened. Remedy, a looser, more eclectic record, sounds as if was stuck together by Buxton and Ratcliffe as they went along, with friends dropping by every few minutes to play some funky bass or do some rapping before wandering off to the kitchen. Described by Basement Jaxx as "punk garage", it's an album with a party atmosphere, albeit a party atmosphere so authentic that it goes on too long, grinds to a halt every now and then and has its share of broken glasses and spilt wine.
If the gig had any such flaws, everyone was having too good a time to notice them. Buxton and Ratcliffe were joined by a supporting cast of singers, rappers and dancers who took it in turns to act as cheerleaders. There was a skirt-swishing flamenco dancer, a muscle-bound, dreadlocked, back-flipping percussionist and a can-canning ragga toaster in purple robes to name but three. And when these gatecrashers left the stage, we still didn't have to watch two men standing behind machinery and nodding. The light show was, for once, worthy of the term, with a barrage of images on the giant pixillated screens and yellow spotlights dancing to the music. Speaking of which, Basement Jaxx ensured that there were as many unexpected twists and turns sonically as there were visually. Their many nights' experience of DJing in sweaty Brixton pubs and clubs has taught them exactly when to calm things down and exactly when to crescendo to a pulsating noise which had those of us in the balcony worrying about just how solidly it had been built.
At the end of the set, a South American fiesta reveller appeared on the screens. On the stage one woman blew a whistle and lobbed Basement Jaxx T-shirts into the audience, and a showgirl jitterbugged in a spangly, fringed bikini and a collar of white peacock feathers. Comparing themselves to a Latin carnival was another bold statement for two white South Londoners, but Basement Jaxx lived up to the analogy. Bentley Rhythm Ace can do dance as pantomime, the Prodigy can do dance as stadium rock and UNKLE can do dance as an art installation. But when it comes to doing dance as a party, Basement Jaxx raise the roof.
If Buxton and Ratcliffe left the showmanship to their guests, The Chemical Brothers took centre stage, surrounded by enough banks of buttons and diodes to navigate a fleet of space shuttles. Both brothers did reasonable rock star impressions. Ed Simons, the one with the short hair, concentrated on throwing his fists in the air; Tom Rowlands, the one with the long hair, preferred to bounce up and down and shake his head. Eight screens throbbed with animated images, too, but this midnight set wasn't about watching a performance.
After a crowd-pleasing 10-minute opening salvo of "Hey Boy Hey Girl", "Music: Response" and "Block Rockin' Beats", the Brothers stripped their music down to the hard, harsh rhythmic bodywork. Every so often a few familiar words would blurt from the speakers, but otherwise the duo abandoned melody in favour of giving us some impression of what it must be like to be a mouse trapped in a kettle drum. The creators of big beat have hit on a new genre: very big beat indeed. Their albums may cross over from dance to rock. On Thursday, the Chemical Brothers crossed right back.
As a postscript, I thought it might make sense to review an act that blurs the boundaries between rock and and dance in a different way, Nine Inch Nails. When he's not assembling film soundtracks or producing Marilyn Manson albums, NIN's leader Trent Reznor is the foremost exponent of "industrial", the deafening techno-metal hybrid consumed principally by people who bear the scars of either acne or self-mutilation. And there are a lot of those about. NIN's latest album, The Fragile, topped the American chart. In Britain, Reznor's brand of relentless gothic bleakness is not quite so fashionable, but we should at least acknowledge that, for him, misery is not just a fashion accessory. He makes records to communicate his pain and communicate it he does, through intense, honest, credible songs. You can make out his words clearly even in concert.
That aside, though, Monday's show was a disappointment. The music thudded on and on, slow and plodding and without a break or a word to the audience between songs. There was one hypnotic sequence when a curtain descended in front of the band, and beautiful black-and-white film montages of the sea were projected on it. Otherwise, even the fans who bought commemorative T-shirts - available in any colour as long as it's black - looked only mildly interested.
Brighton Centre (01273 202881) Wed; Cardiff Int Arena (01222 224488) Thurs; Birmingham NEC (0121 780 4133) Fri & Sat; and touring
The Boy is back in town. With Bananarama, Heaven 17 and Belinda Carlisle.
Belfast Waterfront (01232 334455) Mon; Edinburgh Corn Exch (0141 339 8383) Tues; Birmingham NEC (0121 780 4133) Thurs; Brighton Centre, (01273 202881) Fri; Wembley Arena (0181 900 1234) Sat
Strange but true: 22 singles in chronological order.
Birmingham NEC (0121 780 4133) tonight; Cardiff Arena (01222 224 488) Mon; Newcastle Arena (0191 401 8000) Wed; Glasgow SECC (0141 287 7777) Thurs; Manchester Arena (0161 930 8000) Sat; Wembley Arena (0181 902 0902) Sun
Stand up and "Sit Down". NB
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