The Chemical Brothers + Underworld – 08/10/99 – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is a cavern of a place, almost as large as Earls Court. Much nicer environs than its London counterpart though, and a much tighter, much more likely to not take any of your shit, buddy security team. Less ravey, more rocky crowd too. This was the Surrender tour, so Chemical Brothers had been global for a while now, and consequently the arena was packed to the rafters. Underworld were a bit subdued. The set was quite minimal, more Detroity than I’d heard them before. They hardly played any off Second Toughest… or Dubnobasswithmyheadman, and I really wasn’t keen on Beaucoup Fish at all, which they plundered heavily. They were an innovative band for two albums and then went very boring, in my opinion. They were pretty danceable though, surely helped by the fact that the audience was propah mad fer it.

 I think there was probably a disc jockey fellow or some such entertainment between the acts, I can’t really remember. It would seem the logical thing to do.

 Chemical Brothers ticket Oct 1999

Anyway the house lights went right the way down until the huge arena was pitch black, save for a few thousand glow sticks, luminous necklaces and the little red lights on so many cameras, poised and ready. The murmuring of anticipation from the crowd became a roar as simple muffled drum loop issued forth from the rig. The loop grew slowly and steadily, in volume and intensity, as more and more layers were added, as we were teased and toyed with by the knob twiddlers. When it eventually morphed into the intro to ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ the crowd notched it up another couple of levels. Now there’s this thing that happens in music, and I don’t know the correct term for it, but it’s basically in the first song of a set, when the intro stops and the song starts. The darkness, the soft, downbeat, restrained and suggestive twinkly little notes stop, and the drums, the bass, the kick ass riff, the pyro and the crowd explode into action, and suddenly the band are there, on the stage, bathed in light and the gig is on! It’s a beautiful moment, and some bands undoubtedly do it a lot better than others but I don’t remember a better example than The Chemical Brothers. When ‘that’ moment happened in ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’, every single person in the crowd was jumping up and down, arms aloft, putting so much more effort into it (and by my estimation, having ingested considerably fewer illegal drugs) than a London crowd would. The people all the way at the back was ‘avin it large, it was just electric, such a memorable entrance. There is a caveat to ‘that’ moment though, namely that the momentum is difficult to maintain. Sure enough, the gig tailed away from that point onwards – they were brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but the entrance was so good it couldn’t be built on. And Hey Boy Hey Girl is their best choon anyway, as far as I am concerned…


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