The Chemical Brothers Live in Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, April 16th 2002, by James Furiosi
Okay I got there at around 8:00pm after catching a cab from my sister's pad uptown. The line wasn't bad at first but it grew for what happened to be a sold out show. The crowd did not seem as ecelectic as the Chemical Brother crowds I encountered at Centro Fly so my people-watching episodes were quite boring other than seeing the guy with the "I Love Willie Nelson" t shirt. But I was happy a fucking hurricane didn't prevent us from attending like the last time they hit the Hammerstein.
And I think I actually respect Willie Nelson after enduring the ordeal of the openers-the house DJ and Pete Dong (Tong). The house dj did his job well with the usual mellow tunes designed to spark interest in the upcoming act but Pete Dong really blew. Several times the records skipped on him and he seemed to try to get the crowd going with remixes of Prince and the Sex Pistol's God Save the Queen which were overshadowed by skip skip skip God...the....Queen. My wife who is from the UK commented that most of his trancier tunes were quite old and she's been clubbing since the early 90's. We had more fun chatting with the woman from Northern Ireland sitting next to us who said that Oakenfold did a better job last time at the Hammerstein.
A few words about the venue-the Hammerstein. I am not a concert person-I prefer small venues like clubs and also outdoor shows. I mistakenly bought a mezzanine ticket while crowds were enjoying the floor. I think I might have paid more because we had access to beer and restrooms unlike those poor kids trapped on the floor with 5 inches of dancing space. Unfortunately I had about that much space because they crammed chairs in aisles like sardines in a tin. This guy in front of me was so huge he took two seats and left everyone behind him with 2 inches of leg space. Ticketmaster should have a query which asks: "are you more than 600 pounds" and if you answer "Yes" you should be given two tickets for yo self. This nazi security guy made sure people dancing in aisles like me and my wife returned to their seats. I'm lucky he didn't punch me out when I yelled "Nazi" but when I saw people looking at me funny I realized I wasn't in Yankee Stadium in the bleachers (far more comfortable!!!).
Why concerts like these have seating is beyond me. I looked around and realized most people in our section were 30 and older. I think Ticketmaster saw that I was 30 and grouped me there. The only kid I saw was a 14 year old smoking pot with his parents.
Anyway I better talk about the Chemical Brothers. They opened with a bang and a kickass light show with lots of shit moving around like robots which looked like they were shagging and lights flashing on and off. The first half of their show was kickass and it was frenetic. Come With Us came in and all of a sudden I noticed a noticeable change in the acoustics. The music was loud, I could feel it in my body and it didn't sound a treble-laden as it did when Tong was on.
They even managed to make songs I'm tired of hearing sound better like Block Rocking Beats, Hey Boy Hey Girl (crowd favorite apparently), Setting Sun and Afrika. But the best parts had to be their rendition of Star Guitar which was much heavier than the original along with Elastic Eye. There might have been one or two songs I didn't recognize but the vibe at the beginning was magnificent-everything was hard hitting, heavy and inviting everyone to dance beserkly. If you think you have epilepsy this would be a way to prove it-I felt my throat quake and had a fucking hard time photographing them because the only one I could see was Tom most of the time.
The problems I had with the show was towards the end. It started so hard and fast that they started to have massive pauses with funny fiddling to try to work up the audience more when all it really did was sedate people (bathroom or bar breaks???). I liked one of my least likely tunes The Test and how they fiddled with it along with bits from the video afterwards but everything ended on an Exit Planet Dust note. Don't get me wrong-I love that album but I would start a show with In Dust We Trust or Leave Home not end with it (I can't remember which one it was). It just did not end with the intensity the set started with.
The performance went from 11:20pm to about 12:30am and maybe if the audience wasn't so sedated and was more gregarious, we could have had an encore. But its hard to do that when it looks like someone is having a beer break during 5 minutes of audio malarkey. I was at my sister's local bar by 1:30am watching baseball reruns so things could go a bit longer if the Hammerstein didn't have bullshit NYC ordinances to follow like this 1am deal.
But all and all the show kicked major ass and focused a lot on the last album. Some people on this list may be sad to hear there weren't a lot of tunes from Surrender other than HGHB but this was definitely a tapeable set! I still don't understand what the point was with the keyboards in the back which weren't being used-you could see that Tom was busy mixing and Ed was busy punching in crazy sound effects. The light which Tom uses makes people think he does more work but I think Ed maintains quality control when you see him checking to see if everything is adjusted right while Tom bobs back and forth with the crowd. If anything came out of this I learned that Tom and Ed have the ability to make the lightest sounding tracks come out hard when they perform. A lot of artists get audience support for how close they come to the originals, Tom and Ed redo everything and the results are fantastic.
If they are in your area, fucking see them!!!!!!!!!!