The Chemical Brothers
Wed April 27, Premier, 8 pm, $30, all ages.

The opening Friday of last year's Glastonbury Festival--still Britain's best-loved outdoor mud bath--offered an intriguing choice of headliner. On the headlining stage, Britpop dinosaurs Oasis marked the 10th anniversary of their evergreen debut, Definitely Maybe, with a performance so lacking in commitment that even Glasto's none-more-genial host, farmer Michael Eavis, was moved to lambaste them. Meanwhile, over on the so-called "other stage," the second- largest crowd of the night was losing its collective marbles to one-time Oasis support act, the Chemical Brothers.

Even the most Ecstasy-addled ravers (i.e., everyone) appreciated the irony--not least when teased with a reverberating vocal sample from 1997's number one smash "Setting Sun," sung (via DAT) by Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher. England's favorite big-beat duo was celebrating a decade of arena-sized techno-pokery. Like their old collaborators, former student pals Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons got together in club capital Manchester, arriving on the national scene just as everyone was ready to shake off the post-grunge blues and party hard. And like the Gallagher siblings, these unrelated brothers in dance had made only two good albums: 1995's lysergic breakbeat blowout, Exit Planet Dust, and its genre-spanning, world-conquering follow-up, Dig Your Own Hole. True, they'd continued to light up the domestic charts with state-of-the-art singles, but reckless invention had long since given way to machine-tooled efficiency.

In theory, both groups were living in the past. However, while Noel and company sullenly trudged through their sepia-toned backpages, the Chemicals reworked 10 years' worth of familiar moves into a breathtaking new trip. Hunched over keyboard racks and dwarfed by a giant screen, they eschewed stop-start convention in favor of a continuous, rolling groove that assimilated recognizable motifs into an audiovisual phantasmagoria. The sleek digital imperatives of "Music: Response" were heralded by sky-strafing lasers from the stage and a mass glowstick ovation from the audience. Electro juggernaut "Block Rockin' Beats" boomed out with such seismic force that you feared nearby Stonehenge would be reduced to rubble. The percussive cascades of "Hey Boy Hey Girl" transformed the packed field into a pogoing, 30,000-headed Pavlov's dog that barked the song's "here we go!" refrain as one.

MDMA-bathed synapses were alternately soothed and fried, as celestial stadium house gave way to caustic acid thunder and bass-heavy attitude. This vertiginous sonic drama was accompanied by brain-scrambling projections. Highlights included a jet-fighter ballet, exploding teapots, and a scary green head intoning, "You're all my children now." Saving the best for last, "The Private Psychedelic Reel" ebbed and flowed to delirious effect.

The show surpassed anything Tom 'n' Ed had done on disc. Indeed, you might reasonably expect them to be held in the same regard as veteran guitar slingers whose recording career has run out steam, but who can still flatten buildings live. A knob-twiddling AC/DC, if you will. Alas, the British press is nothing if not fickle, and is currently undergoing a period of indie-oriented myopia. Newspapers and music magazines alike have decided that the only way forward is to time warp back to the early '80s and strip-mine the era bare. Not a week goes by without the NME declaring the "genius" of some skinny-tied chancers who've Xeroxed the sound of New Order, the Cure, and/or Duran Duran.

Meanwhile, once-cherished players from the 1990s MIDI revolution have either broken up (Orbital, Leftfield), made disastrous comebacks (the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim), or entered their "greatest hits" compilation phase (Underworld, Basement Jaxx). Inevitably, when the Chemical Brothers returned earlier this year with their fifth LP, the critical consensus was that it was as a do-or-die release for the dance scene. Superficially, Push the Button has been a success, entering the UK chart at number one and the American equivalent at a respectable 59. Truth be told, it's a frustrating record, with superb productions often suffering in a lottery of charisma-free guest vocalists.

That said, the Brothers' live set features no star turns whatsoever, and you don't need to like (or even know) the CD to be thoroughly blitzed by 'em. So load up on drugs and take a friend, you have nothing to lose but your mind.

editor@thestranger.com

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