Pop music: Decks'n'drums'n'rock'n'roll

Propellerheads

Chelsea Bridge Studios, London

As the bouncers on the door patted our pockets in a half-hearted search for pills, many revellers were nudging and pointing, having spotted the arrival of the Chemical Brothers' Tom Rowlands. Given that the are the most dynamic break-beat outfit to step into the Brothers' slipstream, it was natural Rowlands should be in attendance. What soon became apparent though, was that these deck-dabbling duos have little in common beyond a penchant for eclectic sampling.

Inside, the hall became a heaving mass of combat trousers, trainers and crop-tops as soon as `Take California' kicked-in. The kind of physical intimacy which frottage fans love and claustrophobics dread seemed unavoidableunless you followed the example of a select posse who clambered up onto a kind of wire cage which enclosed the bar and enjoyed voyeuristic bliss.

Alex Gifford and Will White's stagecraft was immediately apparent. Whereas the Chemical Brother's live performances amount to little more than two men and an `on' button, this pair can really hold your attention. One minute Gifford was crouched over his decks with his head cocked like a blackbird listening for worms, the next he was driving the big, squelchy synth groove of `Echo And Bounce' with live bass. White displayed considerable versatility too, sporadically vacating his decks to get behind the drum- kit. This self-sufficient, cleverly kitschy mix of DJ-ing and raw live performance was the Decksanddrumsandrockandroll of the current album's title.

The offer you something rare in modern dance music; the chance to crack a smile. Their use of sampled dialogue takes in everything from a BBC boffin talking about correct microphone placement, to a 1970's groupie getting excited about a guy's velvet pants. Such playfulness makes the duo hard to dislike.

The tack they took with `History Repeating', their magical collaboration with Shirley Bassey, was particularly impressive. It would have been easy for them to project the single's video as a backdrop and jam along to a virtual Shirl, instead, they opted for an instrumental version with some seriously funkyorgan from Gifford. It was all going swimmingly until things started sounding dangerously like Emerson Lake and Palmer. As if in protest, the backing track started jumping, but Gifford simply pressed `stop', giggled an apology, then pressed `start' again. The audience hooted in playful derision, but there was no loss of face. Laugh and the world laughs with you, take yourself too seriously and the world laughs at you. The have got that one nicely sussed.

James McNair

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