Rowlands and Simons, surrounded by keyboards, drum machines, laptops, and mixers, are difficult to distinguish as they perform on stage. The dim lighting and dry ice make it hard to see exactly what they are doing to create the hypnotic sound of a Chemical Brothers concert. However, they are deeply engrossed in their work, like druids performing rituals in a stone circle, manipulating the machines to create their musical magic.
During the two-hour show, the duo, currently in their early 50s, do not rely on their past successes. Although the crowd cheers for the familiar bassline of “Block Rockin’ Beats,” the most noteworthy moments come from lesser-known songs with varying moods. “Wide Open” is both uplifting and melancholic, while “Goodbye” has a pulsing bass and a sampled vocal that evokes strong emotions.
The performance of the Chemical Brothers is more than just a musical showcase, it is a theatrical masterpiece that brings their songs to life. It is similar to the difference between listening to a ballet score and actually witnessing The Rite of Spring. Show designers Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall are like alchemists, transforming sound into a visual spectacle. Their giant LED screen displays films featuring a variety of eerie characters and creatures. These visuals often have an unsettling tone, particularly in the techno frenzy of “Feels Like I Am Dreaming,” which is accompanied by a folk-horrorish video starring Benedict Wong. As their tours progress, the haunting visuals continue to evolve. Fans of the band will be happy to know that the creepy clown, a staple in previous shows, has been replaced by a blue-faced Satan.
According to Rowlands in his book Paused in Cosmic Reflection, the purpose of all of this is to create a sense of overwhelming for the audience. This goal is certainly achieved, especially in the final song, The Private Psychedelic Reel. The sitar riff and drum fills are accompanied by a flashing display of medieval religious art, creating a rapturous and almost devotional atmosphere. At just the right moment, the guitar and woo-woos from Sympathy for the Devil are incorporated as stained-glass demons appear on screen, showing the intentional attention to detail that makes this performance an impressive demonstration of choreographed awe.