Duality: An Odyssey with The Chemical Brothers Live in London
Live at the O2 in 2023 – an odyssey through time and space.
“Behold… they’re coming back.”
The night begins as such…
Wil: “What year were you born?”
Ally: “93, you?”
Wil: “When I first saw the Chemical Bros when you were 4!”
Ally and I have shared a tumultuous friendship for over a decade. When we first crossed paths, he was a mouthy, opinionated 21-year-old fresh off the train from Glasgow, thrust into the heart of a city notorious for shattering hopes and dreams.
In those ten years… not much has changed… but amidst the chaos and turmoil, I often instigated and indeed incited, he managed to steer our publication toward a semblance of professionalism. I grumbled and resisted his efforts, secretly acknowledging that without him, our beloved sprawling mess of a site would never have survived. Consider that a begrudging or backhanded compliment, Ally.
In recent years, with Ally’s hopes and dreams thoroughly shattered, I’d like to think we’ve reached a level of mutual respect. I admire how Ally meticulously ironed out all the fun from Ransom Note, and he concedes that a sprinkle of fun is vital for its survival. After all, dance music was about revelling in the moment, not scrutinising every sonic detail to within an inch of its life. With this in mind, we embarked on a new venture – duality reviews of things close to our hearts. To kick things off, we chose to critique the Chemical Brothers’ triumphant UK arena show at the O2, a celebration of their new album, 26 years since my first encounter with their live sorcery and Ally’s inaugural foray into their world.
Ally enjoys a pint, as long as it boasts “continental” strength. With this in mind, we set out for an afternoon by the river in Greenwich, and a drink in each of the quaint but vaguely Tory pubs along the waterfront. Our journey culminates at the Pelton Arms, a gem of a pub, kudos to Mr. Porter for the recommendation.
Sufficiently lubricated, we venture to the ‘entertainment factory’ that is the Greenwich Peninsula. I’m not particularly keen on arena shows, but Ally seemed well-versed in the art of queuing like a lemming, promptly ordering six pints in one go – a mental note: these pints will find their way back to the world in a bin outside the arena as soon as we depart. While I waited patiently for my Scottish companion, the good ship James Holroyd sets the stage for the evening, warming up the crowd. And then, we’re catapulted into a realm of sensory overload as two seemingly unassuming figures take to the stage, and an array of mind-bending visuals spew in every direction on colossal screens.
"A multi-faceted, beautifully choreographed audio-visual extravaganza."
This is the essence of the Chemical Brothers’ live experience, and how it has evolved. No longer is it merely two lone figures behind a bank of equipment twiddling knobs (though it never truly was); it has grown into a multi-faceted, beautifully choreographed audio-visual extravaganza with each ‘hit’ re-engineered, rearranged and visually remixed. Anyone who fails to be consumed by its splendour clearly doesn’t enjoy life very much.
It’s amazing to hear new tracks like “No Reason,” “The Darkness That You Fear,” and “Feels Like I Am Dreaming” – the latter notable for its psychedelia-inducing video accompaniment – comfortably nestled alongside old friends and favourites. While “Live Again” sounds and looks incredible, there’s always that lingering thought or feeling with their vocal tracks – in this case, the ethereal Halo Maud – that it would be even more incredible if they brought on a few of the vocalists. I understand this is a well-oiled machine, but that would be the sole addition to make this live experience even better.
“How many times have you heard this one?”
“How many times have you heard this one?” Ally chimes in as “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” suddenly infiltrates our senses. It’s probably been too many times, but the energy remains electric.
For me, the O2 is a visually stunning venue to experience a multisensory spectacle and visual overload. However, like other massive arenas, it suffers from the curse of boomy acoustics – an issue that also plagued the Drumsheds recently. These acoustics fail to do justice to the earth-shattering bass for which the Chems are renowned.
If I had my way, they’d be back doing all-nighters at Brixton Academy with Richie Hawtin (in his prime) and a Decks, EFX & 909 set, alongside other legends. But it’s 2023 and those production levels don’t pay for themselves you know, we’ll soak in this joyous kaleidoscopic experience wherever it’s offered, thank you very much.
The night concludes with the ever-epic “Private Psychedelic Reel”. A whirring assortment of stained glass windows and exotic, occult like imagery dazzles across screens as the lights illuminate a wide eyed crowd. A vintage nod to the origins of the duos blessed past. The Chemical Brothers have certainly still got it and I’m more than a little bit surprised that Ally knows this one…