Chemical Brothers, Brixton Academy
Chemical Brothers

Brixton Academy, London

From down in the stalls, the live performance of "Dig Your Own Hole" looks more like "Wash Your Own Pot". Poring over the banks of electronic gadgetry that enclose them, Tom Rowlands seems to be up to his arms in some high-tech kitchen sink while behind him Ed Simons rummages in imaginary cupboards. He's actually waving at us - the semaphor dance equivalent of rock's "Hello, London!" - but it still seems incongruous that from such apparently domestic tinkering come the swarms of techno, hip hop and furious bass engulfing the Academy.

Of course, endeavouring to look sexy at the controls of a musical Moulinex is a problem common to most dance acts plonked in front of their fans. If anything defines the big beat movement which the head it's a reaction against just such a sterile relationship. Sweaty pub backroom sets at the "Sunday Social" laid the foundations for the Brothers' mainstream success, the night's dressed-down boozy egalitarianism served its soundtrack courtesy of the Chemicals' relentless eclecticism.

Rather than the music itself, then, nights like the various Heavenly thrashes and Sonic Mook Experiment thrive on an atmosphere of free-for- all intimacy.

And it's this sense of parity you feel is missing from tonight. Even though the have obviously outgrown the student disco ethos you suspect underpins big beat's visceral appeal, the pair don't look entirely comfortable up there, more equal than the rest of us. They deliver storming expansions on their two albums as faits accomplis - and they're quite right to. Given their head live, for instance, the pared- back recorded versions of "Leave Home" and "Setting Sun" run riot and a willing crowd isn't so much invited to dance as press ganged into duty.

But Simons and Rowlands barely squint over the parapet, and what the pair gain in authority they lose in personality.

You can't really blame the Brothers for failing to read the crowd - in a venue the size of the Brixton Academy, the lowest common denominator is trampled into the carpet - but the carefully structured set occasionally wrongfoots us. Driving techno passages, for instance, suddenly dissolve into a loping hip-hop beat. A submissive audience seems more than happy to jump when required but what comes across as measured on record seems restless before so many.

On the backdrop behind the Brothers, the hyperactive geometric and psychedelic visuals resolve at one point into a film loop of a man repeatedly being kicked in the head. You know how he feels.