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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Pop

Chemical Brothers Prove Electric

May 12, 1997|D. JAMES ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another concert season is underway, and this year the freshest influence onstage comes from the digital domain of dance-floor sound. Yet dance music's biggest obstacle is the very concept of "live."

It is one that the Chemical Brothers and countless others couldn't seem to scale in the past. The British duo, lauded for its hard-edged, high-tech hybrid of hip-hip and rock, had done little more onstage than digital playback for an audience that probably already had the digits at home.

But Saturday night at the Shrine Expo Hall, the Brothers--Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons--worked it out, programming a slick stream of music that worked up the audience like shark feed. The barrage of bombastic syncopation and ear-piercing techno known as "amyl house," "Brit hop" and various other names, was so powerful that the duo blew a circuit in the first 15 minutes.

There were stretches of predictability: The show was a continuous medley of Chemical hits from its past three albums, including the recently released "Dig Your Own Hole" (a continuously mixed album itself). But the Brothers had tricks up their sleave, including remixed editions of songs such as "Setting Sun." The track--an ode to the Beatles featuring Oasis' Noel Gallagher--was radically mutated into a thumping trance of unsyncopated dance. The sampled singer's voice could hardly get a word in edgewise. There were several other moments when the group let fly with the knob-tweaking--adding gratingly rebellious squawks to the journey, alerting familiar samples ("the brother's gonna work it out").

The artists, meanwhile, seemed to spend more time behind a wall of gadgetry, allowing the music to move a mass of perhaps 4,000 people. At times Rowlands and Simons would peek out and fan the flames of fanaticism with raised arms and bouncing feet. Save for the circuitry glitch, the sound was tight and omnipresent. In the last five years of American dance music, the truest performers have been the deejays, entrusted to mix records like a recording engineer might tweak different musical tracks in the studio. Rowlands and Simons are deejays, so they the know the peaks and valleys of a good night on the floor. But they have also taken pages from those who have transcended the oxymoron of live electronic music--artists such as Orbital's Hartnoll brothers, whose anonymous knob-twisting takes a backseat to their sensory overload of light and sound.

In the nearly two-hour performance Saturday, the Chemical Brothers took a major step toward putting critical and commercial doubts about the viability of the dance music concert to rest.

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