SAN FRANCISCO — The Chemical Brothers returned to San Francisco for the first time in four years on Friday to conclude their tour in support of their latest album, No Geography and the band did not disappoint.
The band opened with “Go,” a danceable track off2015 album Born in the Echoes. As the music dropped lasers covered the packed Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The entirety of the venue’s back wall became a massive visual masterpiece with video coming to life before concertgoers. The Chemical Brothers lived up to to their promise that each show should create its own transcendent audio-visual space where fans could lose themselves for the entire set.
While Ed Simons constantly worked the stage, coming out from behind all the monitors, Tom Rowland mostly stayed back. Simons had his hands in the air, fist pumping endlessly to engage the crowd. The duo’s songs blended into one another, which was an amazing feat considering how each song had its own distinct sound. As “Go” finished, the band went into the sultry, seductive “Free Yourself,” off its latest album. Much like the son’s video, projected robots came alive to dance.
The Chemical Brothers worked through their catalog backwards. “Chemical Beats,” off the band’s 1995 debut album, Exit Planet Dust, sounded distinctly different. It was brash and keyboard-heavy. The song fired at the cylinders coming from all angles and finished with an explosion of sound. “Song to the Siren” and “C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L” had a hallucinatory song when played back to back. The siren and a woman’s vocals overlaying were beautifully jarring, and then came in the band singing “C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L brothers.” Before the song was finished, popular cut “Block Rockin’ Beats” dropped in.
“EML Ritual” featured gyrating, thumping and pulsating music with blasts of noise that fit right into the lyrics: “I don’t know what to do, I’m going to lose my mind.” It was like a nightmare coming to life, with the song seemingly ending and then crescendoing suddenly. It was impossible not to feel slightly off-kilter. It was only fitting that “Swoon” came next, taking the show in a club-friendly direction that had fans waving their hands in the air as images of people hugging, kissing and in pure ecstasy flashing on-screen.
The Chemical Brothers then covered New Order’s “Temptation,” its pulsating drumming driving the song’s repetitive lyrics and giving it a distorted feel. The cover segued into “Star Guitar,” its speedier pace creating a surreal feeling.
A robotics-like wall of moving strobe lights appeared and felt as if you were stepping into another world. Large robots emerged. And during “Got To Keep On,” a bass-heavy, throbbing tune, projections of the work of frequent collaborator Michel Gondry appeared on screen.
SOther highlights included “Hey Boy/Hey Girl,” during which the band was swathed in lights, as if getting scanned; the swirling, hypnotic and aural odyssey of “No Geography,” and the trip to outer space brought on by “Escape Velocity” and its explosive wall of sound.
All in all, The Chemical Brothers were a soundscape come to life.
DJ The Black Madonna opened the show. Wearing an oversized Snoopy shirt, glasses and bright pink glow-in-the-dark nails, she seemed to be having more fun than the crowd, dancing it up with her headphones off. With some slow grooves and a four-to-the-floor beat, she gradually sped the music up. Red and white strobe lights created a hypnotic feel as the pulsating drum and bass music filled the venue.
The Black Madonna excelled at moving the music from the ’70s discotheques of Studio 54, to the the beaches of Spain and to the techno clubs of the Hacienda. Her 90-minute set was a kaleidoscope through time and a sonic odyssey.