Music review: The Chemical Brothers, SSE Hydro, Glasgow

No one goes to a Chemical Brothers gig to actually see the Chemical Brothers themselves. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simon are anonymous DJs and musicians who willingly allow themselves to be dwarfed by the sheer relentless barrage of intense sensory overload for which their shows are renowned.

The Chemical Brothers Picture: Mairo Cinquetti/Shutterstock
The Chemical Brothers Picture: Mairo Cinquetti/Shutterstock

The Chemical Brothers, SSE Hydro, Glasgow ****  

These big beat pioneers, both of whom are now pushing 50, make irresistibly vast party music that absolutely demands to be played at Earth-quaking volume while accompanied by mind-shredding visuals.

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They could occasionally be glimpsed as backlit silhouettes, raising their arms triumphantly in time-honoured superstar DJ style, but our attention was fixated throughout on an impeccably orchestrated fiesta of lights, lasers, props and dizzyingly inventive video: a controlled psychedelic explosion of music and art.

Transmitted via towering, God-sized screens, the videos were sometimes darkly humorous but often plain disturbing in the manner of those obscure eastern European short films and animations that the BBC used to employ as filler in the 1980s (thus scarring a generation of impressionable children in the process). At times it was like being at a dystopian disco, or a birthday party for Darth Vader on the Death Star. That, obviously, is a good thing.

At one point, a cloud of what appeared to be nuclear fallout ash descended from the rafters, followed later on by the more traditional and rather more cheerful appearance of massive coloured balloons. Every showbiz spectacle requires a bit of light and shade.

The most impressive moment of all, however, came towards the end of the show, when a pair of oversized toy robots actually seemed to emerge from the screens to accompany Rowlands and Simon on stage. A gleefully surreal and perplexing illusion.

The music? Well, you know what the music is like, it’s essentially an endlessly inspired series of variations on Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles amped up with ginormous hip hop and thunderous dance grooves. Hey Boy Hey Girl, Block Rockin’ Beats and all the others will never get old, unlike the rest of us. They’re immortal bangers.

This year, they released their ninth album. It’s one of their best. Twenty years ago they released Surrender, one of the defining records of its era. They’ve become a kind of national treasure for the post-rave generation, but without ever coasting on nostalgic goodwill. What a thrill. What a goddamn thrill. Paul Whitelaw