View more photos in Timothy Norris' slideshow, “The Chemical Brothers & Chromeo @ Hollywood Bowl.”
LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Klaxons and all other dance-rockers currently carving a profitable niche owe a debt of gratitude to electronica's “Born Slippy”-era–namely the holy trinity of stadium DJs the Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Orbital, who were the first to score mainstream airplay, stateside stardom and big magazine covers in the mid-'90s.
The glowsticks may have dimmed for their contemporaries, but the Chems' power to simultaneously keep the arenas full and have a song like “Hoops” in a new Nissan commercial is a testament to their still-burning success.
And much of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons' success has meant following one simple rule: mixing the experimental with the accessible.
They've kept a finger on the breakbeat pulse and an eye on pop-oriented songs, thanks to the dual hits “Block Rockin' Beats” and “Setting Sun” off 1997's crossover breakout, Dig Your Own Hole. Dig Your Own Hole was their breakthrough, but for anyone who went, sweated and bought the T-shirt (wish I could find mine), the decades-end album is the greatest singular reminder of the inaugural Coachella.
By then, Keith Flint of the Prodigy had become the wild-haired face and voice of an imageless genre. Rowlands and Simons, on the other hand, had frequent vocalists like Noel Gallagher, Beth Orton and the Charlatans UK's Tim Burgess–and later Wayne Coyne, Richard Ashcroft and New Order's Bernard Sumner–doing the singing for them.
Sadly, no guest stars last night. Seeing a few pop up may have made for a more entertaining show considering this was the Hollywood Bowl, not to mention the duo's first non-festival SoCal appearance in ages. Watching the now Oasis-less Gallagher up there definitely would've been a hoot; funny how he objected to Jay-Z headling 2008's Glastonbury, as if there's no correlation between electronica and hip-hop.
With only lasers and background visuals (courtesy of old collaborators Marcus Lyall and Adam Smith, who's directing the current season of Doctor Who) to accompany the music, it was just the two of them in their fortress of equipment. After first going back to the Middle Eastern-inspired “Galvanize” (featuring Q-Tip) off 2005's Push the Button (overlooked, much like 2007's We Are the Night), they dedicated the bulk of the set list, including singles “Swoon” and “Another World,” to their latest album, Further. It's a straightforward, danceable back-to-basics record with no big names or big, obvious hits. But if it's massive you want, the excellent 12-minute third single “Escape Velocity” is typical Chems, with infinite house and psychelic beats that's as much a euphoric endurance test for pacifier-sucking ravers and a wine-and-cheese crowd.
And if you still think DJs have no soul, listen to the haunting vocals that swirl in and out of “Star Guitar” off 2002's Come With Us. (Better yet, watch Michel Gondry's accompanying video that plays out like a moving pastoral postcard). The two threw in some older tracks, including a nice medley from 1999's Surrender (“Hey Boy, Hey Girl,” “Under the Influence” and “Out of Control”).