Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
O2 Academy, London, December 18
It turns out to be a sell-out. Even Thursday, the day before the actual apocalypse, is sold out. And the Warriors are out in force tonight, both young and getting on a bit. It’s a testament to the band’s mass appeal and the success of their five albums since 1992 that they’ve gained new fans as well as united the old tribes from the ’90s: the grown-up indie kids bursting from their block colour shirts, the partisan and overenthusiastic home supporters with their lager, the flannel avoiders and the grumpy old ravers giving the serotonin a squish for maybe one last time. Tattooed fans you never thought you’d see again, crawling out from the shadows and the hinterlands, to pay tribute to their figureheads. To see these once proud subcultures united together again under one roof to relive the drama of ‘Experience’, ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’, ‘The Fat Of The Land’, ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ and ‘Invaders Must Die’ is a touching sight and an arresting smell rolled into one.
Before the main event, Brighton DJ duo South Central mix up Daft Punk and Justice with the mighty riff from ‘Enter Sandman’ and it’s a jolly, if slightly predictable, hotchpotch. With hoods up, and one of them holding a keyboard like he’s about to make off with it, they score an inferior ‘4’ on the danger-o-meter. The dial rockets up to ‘9’ when Jaguar Skills is in the house, blasting forth his brutalist bass buzz all the while concealing his face behind a ’kerchief. He’s certainly aware of the demographic he’s appealing to, and as clips from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Street Fighter II whizz onto the screen behind him, one expects he’ll whip off that disguise any minute to reveal he’s Roland Rat.
Then comes the witching hour, and The Prodigy are upon us. On comes 45-year-old Maxim, dressed in a snood that screams solidarity with the badgers. With him – under lighting that’s a subdued, lurid and light-district scarlet throughout – is 43-year-old Flint, a man surely cryogenically frozen between Prodigy gigs, such are his astonishing powers of preservation. Their leader, 41-year-old Howlett, is more evasive than usual, hiding behind a vast array of shiny laptops and routers, making one wonder if he’s recently checked out Comet’s closing down sale. Accompanying the trio are two rock’n’roll animals who surely bleed bourbon – guitarist Rob Holliday, and the man with the most intricate and thankless job in showbiz, The Prodigy’s live drummer, Leo Crabtree.
“All my people here,” bellows Maxim over some savage feedback before ‘Jetfighter’ kicks in. “All my people in Brixton tonight, this shit’s going to another level.” Maxim does his usual “all my warriors below” routine throughout, and one wonders if it wouldn’t kill him to learn a few other one-liners to mix things up a bit. On the other hand, Keith Flint is the very definition of articulacy: “Brixton fucking Academy, you fucking know what to fucking do!”
All the components are in place and the opening salvo of ‘Voodoo People’ through ‘Breathe’ and into ‘Omen’ is untouchable, yet a lot of tonight feels like bluster. They owned Download Festival back in the summer, but Brixton has the air of a warm-up and much of the crowd is left wanting. The lack of volume means it’s difficult to remain alert should one not be E’d to the gills. And perhaps because of their well-earned and fearsome reputation as an incendiary juggernaut live, they’re damned by their own high standards. Note: an average night at the office for The Prodigy far exceeds the capabilities of most bands. But there are some entertaining moments, even if they are unintentional ones. The flashing white and yellow beams during ‘Firestarter’ lends the lighting scheme a Flash Gordon-era Queen campness, and at times, with the tracks conjoined by foreboding feedback and presumably portentous parping, it all begins to feel a bit like Blade Runner: The Musical. The crowd jumping in unison to ‘Poison’ is a sight to behold. But these bright spots aside, as Prodigy gigs go, this one’s a bit flat. ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ is as terrifying as ever, but ‘Their Law’ and ‘Out Of Space’ just about drag the set to its finale. There’ll be better nights ahead, you can be sure of that.
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