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Concert Review by Serge
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS Foire aux Vins, Colmar, France, August 12th, 2007
Chemical Bros
When Mrs Serge asked me to choose a few gigs from the program of this year’s Foire aux Vins, I picked the Chemical Brothers as one of my choices, much to my offspring’s surprise. ‘Do you know them? Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to go to Norah Jones?’ asked an astonished Arthur to whom I immediately answered, ‘but of course!’ while the girls were looking even more doubtful, rightly so. Actually, I knew them only by name, but hey, it sounded cool, and I was definitely convinced when, one or two weeks later, Nick told me that our good friend Mr Segs had left the excellent Alabama 3 for working with the Chemical Brothers, which led me to believe that logically, the Bros had to be even better than A3, and probably make the same kind of excellent music. Blessed are the poor in spirit…
So here we are in the ‘coquille’, surrounded by 4000 thirty-year-old kids of various styles. A young girl next to us rolls her first joint and shares it with her boyfriend at the speed of light, while others make soap bubbles filled with weed smoke and send them all over the place (charming custom, innit?) On stage, the band’s official DJ plays some Daft Punk and the hall instantly resembles a giant discotheque, everybody jigging about like if there was no tomorrow. Am I the only one to keep unruffled? So it seems…
While our neighbour starts to roll her second spliff, I decide to detail what’s on the large stage. That’s strange, there are no drums, no bass, no guitars, no horns, not even the obligatory cello or double bass, nor the tiniest bongo, but rather three piles of synthesizers and various other keyboards or pieces of electronics. Stage
Exactly like when we’re wondering ‘but when are you going to drink all this?’ when being at a whisky friend’s, I’m asking myself ‘will they have enough time to play all this machinery?’ Especially since Arthur just told me that the chemicals consisted in just two players. Barely a band, if you ask me…
Roland The DJ plays some more tekknoh now. It all sounds like tekknoh to me anyway. I notice a piece where they used lots of Lee Morgan samples, almost the whole Sidewinder album drowned into 200bpm bass and drums. I ask Arthur, ‘are the Chemical Brothers playing the same kind of music?’ He won’t answer to me, little bugger! The girl rolls her third joint. The Bros are late. More tekknoh. I decide to detail the machines on stage a little further… Don’t they look just like the cockpit of an Airbus?
In the hall, it’s Ibiza. The girl rolls her fourth joint. Even more tekknoh (samples borrowed from Cannonball Adderley this time I think.) On stage they are adjusting the smoke machines. More smoke, that’s clever. The girl rolls her fifth joint…
All of a sudden, the lights in the hall are turned off and there’s a ballet of spotlights while a pulsating bass line arises… Here they are on the stage! Two little guys, perfect sons in law - ha-ha-ha, they look pretty harmless! They go behind their machines, push a few buttons and BANG! A huge maelstrom of sounds starts to blow in gusts. The crowd is ecstatic. The girl next to us, as white as a sheet – aren’t we wondering why - yells at her boyfriend that she’s not feeling too well and that she wants to leave immediately. They move. Lights
On stage, it’s Marilyn Manson meets Kraftwerk, just louder than the addition of both. Or should I say ‘avant-garde techno’? Shouldn’t be my cup of tea but I must confess I quite like it. I notice that they barely play any ‘instruments’. Sometimes, they leave their keyboards and the wall of sound just goes on, unchanged. There’s a huge LED screen behind them, displaying clever artwork in synch with the apocalyptic beats. Animals, clowns, policemen, churches, dancing figures, psychedelic arabesques… Do I notice a few political messages? Pink Floyd’s The Wall comes to mind… And of course everything dada… And also the early Père Ubu, both in the aesthetics and in the use of ‘industrial’ noises. Devo? Pierre Henry? They also use quite some oriental samples… Isn’t there some oud somewhere? And there, a few typical violin riffs from the middle-East!
As I can’t really stand the beat, way too permanently binary for me, I focus more and more on the samples and on the ‘general’ sound, and frankly it’s all very cleverly done, even if very little of what we hear is made on the spot. Maybe nothing at all, actually, but who cares? Most of the crowd is here for the beat anyway… Not me. It’s quite hypnotic I must say. The loudspeakers’ breath makes our trousers stick to the front of our legs, like when you walk on the beach on a windy Scottish day. Really! Sometimes my mind starts to wander. I’m thinking, ‘what they are doing is to music what photography is to painting, not better, not worse, just different…’ Another time, I’m wondering if the Bros aren’t the Gilbert and George of music…
Chemical Gilbert and George
Riddle: who are the Chemical Brothers and who are Gilbert and George?
All of a sudden, the beat stops and there’s a huge ‘Love us all’ written on the screen. Arthur scrutinizes me… ‘Did you like it, Dad?’ ‘But of course, son!’
And now I have tinnitus in my left ear. Serves me right! - Serge

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