As I joined a crowd weighted heavily towards the middle-aged ex-raver and descended on the rarely utilised Melbourne Arena for the first Chemical Brothers gig in the city since 2013, I began to ponder the duo’s place in music history. Were they true musical legends, or do I just remember them fondly because they were a large part of the soundtrack to my teenage years?
Fast forward to 9 o’clock in the dark confines of the sterile cavern that is generic arena #40927. A chopped up version of Junior Parker’s take on The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ at a volume just loud enough to get the crowd’s attention begins playing. Enter the stars of the show and straight away we’re into ‘Go’, from their 2015 album ‘Born In The Echoes’. Now we’re cooking. The crowd is instantly swept up in the furore of flashing lights and signature big beats, but there still feels like something is missing. Enter song two, ‘Free Yourself’ from their 2019 album ‘No Geography’. “Free yourself. Free me. Dance.” The instructions from a melodramatic face bellow out over the crowd a few times. “Free yourself. Dance.” it says again as a final instruction before the bass kicks in at a volume loud enough to make your vision
go blurry. The crowd roared and the two-hour show was in full flight.
The whole show is filled with unbelievable visuals and they make the show worth it alone, but the real drawcard for me has always been their use of dynamic range – the use of volume. They always have some fuel in their tank, even if you think they’re already running at full capacity.
As the set churned through tunes from their new album all the way back to their 1995 debut ‘Exit Planet Dust’ (with ‘Chemical Beats’ popping up early on), the enormous screen that dwarfed the actual musicians overwhelmed the senses with scene after scene of super-hi-res Marcel Duchamp-esque scenes accentuating the relentless rhythm pounding on our eardrums.
They wore their influences on the sleeve more than once with their 2002 single ‘Star Guitar’ appearing from a ground-up version of New Order’s ‘Temptation’, and later The Rolling Stones ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ would pierce through their epic signature closer ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’.
Was the show perfect? Well, no. It was mostly killer, some filler. For every action of collective euphoria (I’m looking at you, ‘Galvanize’), there was a time when the crowd collectively wondered if this were really necessary (*cough* ‘Saturate’ *cough*).
With two encores, the show might have gone on a bit longer than it had to – a theory supported by the not-insignificant number of people who saw fit to leave before the band returned to the stage a third time – but with that came a show that had something for every fan.
I have such fond memories sneaking into the now-defunct CBD nightclub The Metro (later renamed The Palace) in January 2000, just weeks before my 18th birthday where the Manchester duo inflicted total sensory overload in what was still one of the loudest shows I have ever been privy to. In fact, this tour was acknowledged tonight during ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ as they used the same comparatively lo-fi visuals that blew minds all those years ago.
Now, at 37, I’m a little older, a little wiser, but still just as in love with The Chemical Brothers as I was twenty years ago. To answer the question posed in the beginning: Are they true musical legends? The answer is a resounding yes. Love them or hate them, there was nobody like them before they came onto the scene and there has been nobody like them since.
Were we watching two guys in their forties jumping around to a bunch of flashing lights for two hours? Nah, we were ten thousand and two people jumping around together to a bunch of flashing lights for two hours, and it was, despite its imperfections, absolutely glorious.
Setlist for The Chemical Brothers at Melbourne Arena, 5 November 2019
Temptation/Star Guitar/Gravity Drops
Got To Keep On
Hey Boy Hey Girl
Eve of Destruction
Escape Velocity/The Golden Path
Hoops/Get Up On It Like This
Under The Influence/Dig Your Own Hole
Wide Open/Don’t Think
C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L/Leave Home/Song To The Siren
Block Rockin’ Beats
Catch Me I’m Falling
Electronic Battle Weapon 8
The Private Psychedelic Reel/Sympathy For The Devil