Chemical Brothers : Portsmouth Guildhall

...these tribal torrents take you deep into the heart of Congo darkness and make you dance like a savage to the horror within...

There should be a law banning rock stars from ever going to Africa. They leave as decent, rock-fearing pop icons, spend ten minutes watching some ‘ethnic’ drumming from the safety of their penthouse suite window, suddenly ‘discover’ the concept of rhythm and come back as self-righteous World Music tossers intent on introducing the globe to the wonders of the Zimbabwean knee cymbal. Before you know it they’ve replaced their drummer with someone called ‘Saucerface’ hitting mummified elephant cocks with a stick, joined Amnesty International, collaborated with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on ‘Later…’ and become good mates with Sting. Sorry Damon, but nothing sends a healthy pop career down the crapper faster than exposure to the house band in a safari station gift shop.

So ban all rock stars from Africa. But make all DJs go, by law.

How over are [a]Chemical Brothers[/a], eh? They’re so snogging-goths-down-student-night-in-’97, so snakebite and big beat, so [I]September 10th[/|]. ‘Surrender’ and ‘Come With Us’ have exposed them as one-trick phoneys and their keep-the-cab-waiting ‘collaborations’ with indie royalty have become so laughably Dadrock that Kelly Jones must be pencilling seven minutes out of his 2003 schedule as we speak.

The dance zeitgeist has been hijacked by gak-toting estate ruffians and Birmingham brandy addicts and – now Timotei Tom’s luscious Anneka Rice locks have been so savagely shorn – they’ve got all the charisma and sex appeal of a sack of chopped liver. They’re the techno [a]Paul Weller[/a], a stuck-in-the-mud nostalgia turn who’ve owned up to their dinosaur irrelevance by hanging a motorised Pink Floyd circular screen over the stage. Look darling, [a]Chemical Brothers[/a] are in town! Ring the babysitter, we’re going for a jitterbug! Let’s hope there’s inflatable pigs!

So how come, when [a]Chemical Brothers[/a] play their berzerker brand of warped world music, it’s the trip of a lifetime? It begins, as these things should, in Afrika-ka-ka-ka-ka-etc. ‘Music: Response’ explodes with blitz-mental burundi beats, ‘Song To The Siren’ finds choirs of howling gospel banshees clawing their way out of Ed’s sequencers and ‘…Afrika’ itself – complete with Flaming Fanny visuals – builds from a vaguely fruggable Vic’n’Bob gag into a tropical typhoon of robot rabbits. If Damon’s Mali album is a tourist trip around African culture, these tribal torrents take you deep into the heart of Congo darkness and make you dance like a savage to the horror within.

And, like the Eamonn Holmeses of stude-rave, they don’t let the journey end. They do ‘Out Of Control’ and we’re buzzing monks in an ancient Indian temple on ‘Quadrophenia’ scooters. They do the techno-[a]Depeche Mode[/a] kitch of ‘Star Guitar’ And we’re making boxes in the Louvre pyramid, sorted for cappucino and Gogan. They do ‘My Elastic Eye’ and we’re pilled off our cheeseholes at the Nuremburg rally with[a]Spiritualized[/a]. They do ‘Sunshine Underground’ And, ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. ‘[a]Madonna[/a]?’ it’s zero-gravity drone seems to sneer, ‘that’s our laptop’s [I]start-up noise[/I]’. Then it escalates into a roaring cacophony like ‘A Day In The Life’ being run over by stampeding buffalo. Incredible.

Like when [a]Chemical Brothers[/a] has to have a ten-minute ballet break so she can go off and change her hat, The [a]Richard Ashcroft[/a] indulge in a few lengthy rave breaks to give their massive screen time to jiggle about a bit. But by the time a Noel-free ‘Setting Sun’ catapults us into orbit and ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ crash-lands us in heaven surrounded by jiving stained-glass Jesuses and deafening swarms of David Lynch’s pet killer bees, we’ve forgiven them their [a]Chemical Brothers[/a] flirtations, Samson-esque hair massacres and big screen tomfoolery. The Guildhall isn’t in soggy old Portsmouth anymore, it’s on a Tibetan mountaintop at sunset and the circular screen is worshipped like Sun Ra. Not bad for a couple of boring, shit-haired dorks whose stage performance only stretches to jumping about like burning puppies in a box full of hedgehogs during ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’.

[a]Super Furry Animals[/a]’ pioneering work in the field of the dance/rock crossover may have faltered at the Get Some Pop Stars To Sing stage – that ball’s in your court now, [a][/a]. But when it comes to awaking the primal beast inside every economics student, there’s not an open-topped bus tour round Mali to match it.

Mark Beaumont